PASSION IS A fan telling the owner of a new Major League Soccer team that he will "mow your lawn every day for a year" if you sign retired French star Zinedine Zidane.

Nick Sakiewicz figures to hear plenty of those offers over the next 2 years. It's not the reason the CEO and operating partner of the region's as-yet unnamed MLS team will begin a biweekly chat with fans starting tonight on the Sons of Ben site (www.sonsofben.com). But he said Tuesday it's all part of "making fans feel that they are part of the team."

"Look, they have a lot to say," he said, admittedly amused by the request. "Some of it is real good stuff and some of it you shake your head and say, 'crazy fans.' They have a right to be. They pay to watch us play and they deserve their voice to be heard. My partners and I believe the fans should be heard."

While it's a unique approach in this area, Sakiewicz said he has had success with a chat before, as general manager of the soccer team in Tampa Bay and then as president of the New York/New Jersey team. The chats will run from 7 to 7:45 p.m. every other Thursday in what will provide the run-up to the MLS Game of the Week on ESPN2.

If the trial run done a couple of weeks ago with a select group of fans is any indication, Sakiewicz will see a mix of questions about the timetable for a team almost 2 years away from its debut.

"Owners can't take for granted that the fans will always be there when the team's not winning," Sakiewicz said, "so you'd better engage them now, when they're interested in what the team name might be, the construction of the stadium, how's it going, where the seats will be, how the lower bowl will look, what players we might be looking at. Those are the easy things for us to do."

Sakiewicz, who said these chats will be a "regularly scheduled event for the foreseeable future," knows these softball questions eventually will have a sharper edge to them. "I can assure you the questions will not be as soft when we go on our first losing streak," he said. "But, believe me, I'm totally prepared for that." *

- Paul Vigna

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