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Utah's Major League Soccer team has signed John Ellinger to a three-year contract as its first head coach.

"It goes without saying I'm very excited about the opportunity to start as the head coach in Salt Lake City," Ellinger said, noting that Utah was a great choice for the league's expansion plans.

"I'm not a skier, but I've been there for soccer-related activities," Ellinger

said. "I see the passion that exists there."

Wednesday's official announcement came five weeks after the original deadline set by team owner Dave Checketts in July. Now, with every moment precious before the 2005 season opens in April, Ellinger is looking forward to the challenge of putting a team together.

"To put this roster together in time to begin preseason is a monumental task," Ellinger said. "We're looking forward to that."

Putting the team together may not be too difficult for Ellinger, who has been the U.S. under-17 Men's national team coach for several years, as well as U.S. Soccer's Director of Youth Development. Perhaps no one in the country is more familiar with the country's most talented youth players.

"From a talent-evaluation standpoint, in my mind John Ellinger is the ideal candidate," general manager Steve Pastorino said.

Ellinger has a wide field of players to choose from. Pastorino said agents representing about 25 players from around the world have contacted the team.

"None of the Salt Lake City salary cap space is accounted for yet," Pastorino said. "We're in a unique situation to sign just about any player that we want to."

The Salt Lake City expansion team, as well as CD Chivas USA (the league's expansion team in Los Angeles), inevitably will be compared in its first year to the Chicago Fire team coached by Bob Bradley in 1998. In its inaugural season, the expansion Fire won the MLS Cup championship after announcing Bradley as head coach on Oct. 30, 1997.

While Ellinger's contract does not include similar performance expectations, Pastorino did say he and Ellinger have similar goals for the team.

Ellinger's previous experience in MLS was as an assistant coach to the Columbus Crew in the league's inaugural season. Located in the smallest market in the league, the Crew has become one of MLS's most popular and successful teams, and Ellinger said Salt Lake City is similar to Columbus.

"It's a great city," Ellinger said. "It's a great environment to play in."

MLS is coming Owners of Utah's new MLS team will unveil the team's name, logo, colors and uniform at an open house Saturday:

When: Festivities begin at 11 a.m.; Announcement at 1 p.m.

Where: Rice-Eccles Stadium.

What to do: Choose your seats for season tickets, watch Utah Youth Soccer Association matches.

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