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MLS Rivals Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers Tap Legal Talent

July 25, 2022, 4:45 PM

The Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers, two of the biggest rivals in Major League Soccer, are among several clubs adding to their legal teams off the pitch.

Felipe Mendez, who spent the past three years as general counsel for the Bellevue School District near Seattle, joined the Sounders this month as an associate general counsel. He is also president of Washington Youth Soccer, an organization dedicated to promoting the sport among children in the state.

The Sounders promoted longtime legal chief Maya Mendoza-Exstrom to chief operating officer earlier this year. She didn’t respond to a request for comment. In May, the Sounders beat Mexico City’s Pumas UNAM in front of an MLS record 68,700 fans in Seattle to become the first MLS side to advance to the FIFA Club World Cup.

That same month the Timbers hired Heather Davis, a longtime in-house lawyer with the National Football League, as their new general counsel. Davis joined the Timbers after a year as senior corporate counsel for mergers and acquisitions at Vacasa Inc., a vacation rental management company based in Portland, Ore.

Davis said in an interview that the Covid-19 pandemic prompted her to leave the NFL’s New York headquarters in May 2021 after nearly nine years with the league. The former Paul Hastings and Covington & Burling associate, an Oregon native, and her husband relocated that summer to the state’s wine country.

MLS is closing in on a coveted spot as one of North America’s Big Four professional sports leagues. In June, Apple Inc. inked a long-term streaming rights deal for MLS games. The league has expanded rapidly in recent years, with an expansion team owned by hedge fund mogul David Tepper taking the field this year in Charlotte, N.C., and another club in St. Louis set to start play next year.

New Competition

Davis returns to the sports world with her new job as legal chief for the Timbers and Portland Thorns FC, an affiliated franchise in the National Women’s Soccer League.

“The soccer culture on both the men’s and women’s side is great in Portland—it’s fun to be a part of it,” Davis said. “I feel really lucky to have been able to find my way back into sports out here.”

She took over from former Timbers and Thorns general counsel Lori Le Cheminant, who spent more than three years in the role. Le Cheminant didn’t respond to a request for comment about her departure from the team.

The Timbers and Sounders each year vie for the Cascadia Cup along with another Pacific Northwest mainstay, the Vancouver Whitecaps. All three teams are currently bunched together in the middle of MLS’ Western Conference standings.

Mendez was out of the office and unavailable for comment about his new Sounders role, which is listed on the team’s website, as well as his LinkedIn profile and registration with the Washington State Bar Association. Public records show that Mendez earned $190,000 during 2020 in his prior job as a school district legal chief.

More MLS Moves

The Sounders and Timbers aren’t the only MLS teams hiring lawyers.

LAFC, a Los Angeles-based team with Big Law backing that currently sits atop the Western Conference table, recruited a replacement for its former general counsel Randy Haight, who in December joined the Coca-Cola Co. The franchise hired new legal chief Joseph Connaughton III in February after he spent three years as counsel for the National Basketball Association’s Oklahoma City Thunder.

Connaughton brought on former Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner associate D. Logan Kutcher as senior counsel in April. Kutcher most recently worked in-house at Lyft Inc. and Dish Network Corp.

In May, FC Cincinnati announced its hire of vice president of legal affairs Paula Boggs Muething after she stepped down as Cincinnati’s city manager. Bloomberg Law reported last year on a former partner at Cincinnati’s Keating Muething & Klekamp, where Boggs Muething once worked, helping the team open a new stadium.

FC Dallas in January tapped James O’Sullivan to succeed Alan Tompkins as its general counsel. O’Sullivan was previously an assistant general counsel and director of land administration at Dallas-based Unity Hunt Inc. Tomkins has served as general counsel for the privately held company controlled by the Hunt family, longtime benefactors of US soccer and owners of the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com; John Hughes at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com