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Felipe Mendez  –  Seattle Sounders FC 

Seattle Sounders’ general counsel pursues a new goal 

Felipe Mendez is moving up in the soccer world, like a player who proves he’s good enough to share the field with the elites. Only Mendez will continue making his mark off the field. 

Felipe Mendez | General Counsel | Seattle Sounders FC 

Felipe Mendez | General Counsel | Seattle Sounders FC

Having distinguished himself for the past three years as general counsel of Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders, Mendez debuts on the international stage. The Emerald City is among the 16 U.S., Canadian and Mexican locales to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup, and he’ll be chief legal counsel of the local organizing committee, SeattleFWC26.  

The eyes of the soccer world to be focused on the Pacific Northwest for parts of June and July of that year when six matches will be played at Seattle’s Lumen Field, there’s much economic impact to garner and a greater community to promote. For Mendez, such a role seems the logical progression of what he’s been doing for the Sounders since the summer of 2021 and, before then, his three-year stretch as general counsel for the Bellevue School District in Washington’s King County.  

“It’ll be an amazing opportunity for this community and region to showcase their passion and support to the world,” the personable Mendez tells Vanguard in May while wrapping up his responsibilities with the Sounders. “For me, it’s a unique role that requires a unique skill set that I have.” 

He knows the score 

His time with the Sounders has given him many opportunities to demonstrate the versatility that his upcoming role will demand. Looking back at these last three eventful years, Mendez proudly cites projects consummated on his watch. 

Felipe Mendez | General Counsel | Seattle Sounders FC 

Establishing the regulatory and compliance program for the Sounders Academy nurtures the area’s 14- to 18-year-old soccer talent. As a compliance officer for MLS safety, Mendez ensures protocols are in place to protect these boys from any type of abuse, with Eduardo Millan supporting as the Club’s Athlete Safety Officer.  

The league is well aware of other organizations whose reputations have been marred by scandal. Mendez emphasizes that MLS and the Sounders take seriously their role in ensuring a healthy environment whether the academy players are at home or on the road. Soccer’s popularity is high in Greater Seattle, so there’s always a chance that one of these youngsters will someday wear the Sounders uniform. 

The big team now enjoys a modern training facility on a 150-acre campus. Mendez’s legal and business skills have factored in establishing the Providence Swedish Performance Center & Clubhouse at a former horseracing park in suburban Renton. The Club had outgrown its previous facility, he explains. At the same time, the new one offers ample work space and medical offices and all-around comfort much appreciated by players as well as the greater community that enjoys some of its services. 

“A lot of hard work from many people went into it,” he says. “Not just legal, but a multifaceted effort. Previously, our business and soccer operations were separate as there wasn’t enough space in the old facility. Now everything’s under one roof.” 

String of victories 

As Mendez winds down his tenure with the Sounders, he says everything’s in place for what’s one of MLS’ top franchises to sustain its success. While he’s never had much of a hand in what happens on the field, his oversight of legal, commercial and regulatory functions has kept the back office on a winning streak. Many of those responsibilities will go to young Sadie Houston, who interned as a Seattle University School of Law student and became associate general counsel in December after a short run at Zillow. 

Felipe Mendez | General Counsel | Seattle Sounders FC 

“She’s amazing in how rapidly she’s learning and understanding the dynamics of a professional sports enterprise,” Mendez says. “The regulatory, commercial and community sides—you’ve got to be involved in all that. The Pacific Northwest is a unique ecosystem that calls for  inclusive community involvement.” 

Such a commitment seemed in Mendez’s DNA long before he joined the Sounders. He, too, is a Seattle University School of Law graduate. Mendez enhanced his credentials with a master’s in education policy analysis at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Policy & Governance that helped make him an effective legal boss for the Bellevue School District from 2018 to 2021. 

But, as he explains, the chance to be part of a soccer franchise was just too good to pass up. Well-immersed in the community through his work with the school district and volunteering in youth soccer with Washington Youth Soccer and the US Soccer Federation’s Rules Committee, he checked all the boxes on the Sounders’ wish list. Furthermore, he was already enrolled in a global master’s program in sports law at the prestigious ISDE school in Madrid. 

“It was a difficult decision leaving the school district,” he says. But you rarely get that opportunity to go into professional sports, especially when it’s in your backyard.” 

SeattleFWC26 enables him to stay in his backyard, but it may only be a two-year position. What Mendez will do after the final game is to be determined, but he’s confident his skills will find a home. He’s always been one to adapt to circumstances, attributing some of that to growing up in central Washington as the son of an extended family of migrant farmworkers of Mexican-American ancestry. 

“We always felt we were middle class even if we weren’t,” he recalls. “It was a very supportive environment with aunts and uncles and extended family, and I was blessed because my parents never put me in a box.” 

Role models 

His family members also never place limits on themselves, Mendez recalling how his grandmother ran the first Spanish language radio program in the Pacific Northwest aimed at the migrant community and brought Mexican bands to the local recreation hall. Each of Mendez’s parents became teachers and instilled in their son a love of learning and greater responsibility.  

Felipe Mendez | General Counsel | Seattle Sounders FC 

“I recognized my duty to earn myself worthy of the sacrifices others made on my behalf to give me opportunities they never had,” he says. “By becoming a lawyer, I honored my parents’ commitment to me and attempted to set the bar for my kids.” 

His oldest daughter played soccer at Central Washington University and now works in college athletics with Seattle Pacific University in Seattle. Mendez and his wife also have a younger daughter and son, each of whom enjoys soccer. 

If Mendez ever envisioned himself as a player, he soon realized his physical skills wouldn’t get him that far. As a high school student, his interests shifted to football and basketball, though he continued to follow soccer. 

And his favorite team in those pre-Sounders days? None other than Liverpool FC, whom he watched win the Premier League in 2019. 

He’ll likely be cheering for the U.S. team come 2026 and sees Seattle as a most agreeable host city with its cool summer temps, beautiful surroundings and passionate fan base. But whatever happens on the field, he says the Pacific Northwest will be a winner as more than 2 billion fans watch from afar and hundreds of thousands flock to Seattle.  

SeattleFWC26 will have a presence in multiple communities and do much to further ascertain the Emerald City as a world-class sports town. The Sounders, Mendez says, are just as much a presence as the NFL’s Seahawks, the NHL’s Kraken and MLB’s Mariners, and it seems just a matter of time before the NBA returns. Should Mendez opt to stay in some facet of sports law, there should be opportunity. 

“It’s a most exciting time to be in the Seattle sports scene,” he says. “There’s lots of collaboration and camaraderie among the teams. I’m proud to be part of it.” 

Published on: June 21, 2024

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