If the stubbornness in Irish-born Leighton O'Brien had the final say, he'd keep playing pro soccer until he died. Being realistic, the 11th-year...

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If the stubbornness in Irish-born Leighton O’Brien had the final say, he’d keep playing pro soccer until he died. Being realistic, the 11th-year pro understands he needs to finish strong in his final year with the Sounders and their affiliation with United Soccer Leagues First Division.

For O’Brien and fellow Sounders players, this season could be a last chance to get back to Major League Soccer.

O’Brien, 32, would love a repeat of 2007 when the USL Sounders captured a league-best fourth championship. Seattle’s final campaign in USL kicks off with the Sounders traveling to meet the Charleston Battery on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. (PDT).

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“This is a good group of guys, and we like playing together,” O’Brien said. “I think honestly, we all know the potential is there to play in [MLS]. That will probably make us work harder.

“But we’re just focused on now. Who knows what’s going to happen as far as joining the MLS team?”

If efforts aren’t top notch, O’Brien and his teammates might not be part of the bright future of pro soccer in Seattle when Seattle Sounders FC joins MLS.

“I think everyone in the [USL Sounders’] office, the staff and players, know that if they do a good job this season that there’s a chance to continue on with the MLS team,” said Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer, who has been told by management that he’s a candidate for the inaugural MLS club in Seattle. “This is not a lame-duck season by any means. We signed all our guys back. We’re spending money.

“It’s going to be business as usual.”

If nothing else, expect the final USL season for the Sounders to be a success and a test. The club returns all 11 starters and 16 players from the team that beat the Atlanta Silverbacks for the USL First Division crown last year.

“We probably have five to eight guys who could play for the MLS team in Seattle,” Schmetzer said. “If I was the coach, I would bring 10 of them along. Realistically, I think eight to 10 guys have a legitimate chance of playing MLS somewhere.”

Adrian Hanauer, transitioning from general manager of the USL Sounders to the MLS club, has the job of closing out an era and starting Seattle’s biggest chapter in pro soccer.

“I want to win another championship, and that’s why we brought back the starting 11, but I’ve got one eye on MLS,” said Hanauer, who just returned from a search for players for either club in Argentina after travels to Europe and Africa. “With the MLS, it’s not so much about competing just in that league as it is about competing globally.”

Sounders defender Taylor Graham is another player hoping to stick with the Sounders next year.

“Everyone hopes to make the transition in 2009 to Sounders FC,” said Graham. “I look at this as an amazing opportunity. It would be really special if this year’s Sounders players could come up with MLS. But there’s a long time between now and then.”

One difference between this season and last is that the USL Sounders won’t use Qwest Field as their home field as they have the previous five seasons. After the May 10 opener against the Portland Timbers at Qwest, Seattle plays its remaining 14 home matches at Starfire Sports & Entertainment Complex in Tukwila.

There is speculation that forward Sebastien Le Toux, named USL First Division MVP in 2007, is the lone USL player already signed for 2009 by Seattle’s MLS club. Le Toux supplied a team-best 38 points on 17 goals and four assists last season for the Sounders, who finished 27-9-7 overall and won the regular season title at 16-6-6.

Sounders roster
No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Age School Yr (Yr)*
1 Ben Dragavon GK 6-1 195 24 W. Washington 3 (3)
2 Noah Merl D 6-1 175 24 California 3 (3)
3 Andre Schmid F 6-4 200 25 St. John’s 3 (2)
4 Danny Jackson D 6-0 185 28 North Carolina 7 (6)
7 Leighton O’Brien MF 5-10 160 32 San Diego 11 (6)
8 Sebastian Le Toux F-MF 6-0 155 24 Rennes Academy 4 (2)
9 Craig Tomlinson F 5-9 160 35 Ohio State 12 (9)**
13 John Fishbaugher D-MF 5-10 175 22 Seattle U. R (R)
14 Jason Cascio MF-F 5-10 170 23 Seattle U. R (R)
15 Kevin Sakuda MF-D 6-0 170 27 Duke 6 (6)
16 Kenji Treschuk MF-D 5-10 180 25 Penn State 2 (2)
17 Zach Scott D 5-11 175 27 Gonzaga 7 (7)
18 Roger Levesque F-MF 6-2 174 27 Stanford 6 (6)
20 Youssouf Kante’ MF 5-9 160 23 Dinamo Bucharest 2 (R)***
21 Adam West MF-D 6-0 175 22 Washington 2 (2)
22 Chris Eylander GK 6-1 170 24 Washington 3 (3)
26 Taylor Graham D 6-4 190 27 Stanford 6 (3)
31 Josh Gardner MF 5-11 162 25 Cincinnati 5 (2)
77 Hugo Alcaraz-Cuellar MF-F 5-11 160 31 Fresno State 7 (2)
Managing partner: Adrian Hanauer. General manager: Bart Wiley. Coach: Brian Schmetzer. Assistant coaches: Jimmy Gabriel, Bernardo Ruiz, Darren Sawatzky, Tom Dutra. *Years pro (with Sounders). **Pending Visa. ***Pending USL approval.