MLS Soccer

Sounders miss First Kick

Major League Soccer begins its 17th season Saturday with five games scheduled.

None of those involve Sounders FC, which for the first time in its four seasons won’t be featured in a First Kick game.

The Sounders are focused on their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series, which resolves Wednesday in Mexico.

Seattle begins MLS play March 17, when Toronto FC visits CenturyLink Field.

The honor of kicking off the MLS season Saturday will be shared by Vancouver and Colorado.

The Whitecaps will play host to expansion rival Montreal, while Columbus will visit the Rapids. Both games kick off at 3 p.m. Later in the day, Kansas City visits D.C. United, New England visits San Jose and Real Salt Lake visits defending MLS Cup champion Los Angeles.

The league makes its broadcast debut at noon Sunday on NBC Sports Network with New York at Dallas.

New this season is an unbalanced schedule that emphasizes geographic rivalries, a playoff system of five teams per conference, and the team with the better record playing host to the MLS Cup final.

Soccer-specific stadiums will open in Montreal and Houston.

Commissioner Don Garber on Thursday held his annual state-of-the-league news conference. Among the highlights:

 • Garber said MLS has established itself as the United States’ fifth major league. He noted an ESPN poll that found soccer to be the country’s second most popular professional sport among those ages 12-24.

 • The MLS salary cap makes it the most balanced pro sport not just in the U.S. but in the world. “Every MLS team at the start of the season has a belief it can win a championship,” Garber said.

 • Montreal gives the league 19 franchises and a second New York team could be No. 20. Garber expects a $100 million expansion fee once a stadium plan is settled there.

 • The league wants to cut down on both diving and dangerous challenges.

Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808 twitter/donruiztnt