Sounders preparing to launch USL Pro team in 2015

Mike Russell/Sounder at Heart

Team will almost certainly play its first year at Starfire, but could potentially move if a suitable partner can be found.

Situations like David Estrada's could soon be a thing of the past. The Seattle Sounders veteran recently returned from a short-term loan to the Atlanta Silverbacks, a move designed to get him some minutes.

It's a similar situation Eriq Zavaleta faced the year before and a mechanism the Sounders have used with some regularity over the years.

Loans are also a bit of a gamble. Although they represent an opportunity for real-game playing time, there's nothing guaranteed. In Estrada's case, for instance, he didn't start his final game there, primarily because the coach knew he was heading home afterward.

This won't be a problem next year.

Barring some kind of calamitous situation, the Sounders will be owning and operating their own USL Pro team next year. Sounders GM and part owner Adrian Hanauer told reporters on Tuesday that the only area which remains remotely in doubt is where they'll play.

"We're somewhere between 95 and 99 percent heading toward a USL Pro team [at Starfire], certainly to begin with," Hanauer said. "We'll remain open to other opportunities. It would require finding a good partner and a good facility situation."

While the first year of USL Pro action will almost surely involve games being played at Starfire, the possibility of moving remains a distinct possibility and might even be preferable from a business standpoint. At one point, it seemed like a good possibility that the Sounders would partner with the Tacoma Rainiers and play games somewhere near Cheney Stadium. That never came to fruition, but moving to Tacoma remains a possibility. Hanauer also mentioned such locales as Everett, Bellingham and even Boise, Idaho as cities that could potentially host a Sounders-affiliated USL Pro team.

Playing games at Starfire does have advantages, though, especially from a competitive standpoint. While moving to, say, Boise would expand the Sounders' brand -- and Hanauer also said brand expansion is one of the reasons behind the split from the Seahawks -- it would be much more difficult logistically.

In the Starfire scenario, the USL Pro team would likely train either right before or right after the MLS side. Players could be shuttled back and forth with virtually no downside. Veterans like Chad Barrett, Kenny Cooper or Estrada -- who aren't getting a ton of minutes for the senior team -- could be sent on one-game "loans" just to get some minutes without having to actually leave the senior team. Academy players could effectively do the same.

"That would be ideal with any professional, if you're contracted through the MLS team," Estrada said. "You could just stay here and not have to move for months or weeks at a time. That would be so ideal, especially for a team like the Sounders who have so much depth."

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