Whitecaps, Impact both hoping for spot in MLS - The Province

Marc Weber

VANCOUVER - The fierce competitive nature of the Vancouver Whitecaps/Montreal Impact rivalry is not shared at the boardroom level, despite the clubs both seeking membership into Major League Soccer, according to Caps president Bob Lenarduzzi.

"I was just talking with (Impact president) Joey Saputo and we both agreed that there isn't a feeling that we are competing for a spot," he said. "The feeling is that we would both be unbelievable markets to expand to."

That might be true, but there's certainly nothing close to a guarantee that they'll both get in. MLS adds its 15th franchise in 2009 (Seattle) and 16th in 2010 (Philadelphia), and has committed to expanding to 18 teams by 2011 or 2012.

The good news for the Canadian cities is that more recent language from MLS officials suggests that expanding to 20 teams, or beyond, is possible. However MLS senior VP Dan Courtemanche made it clear there's a large pool of strong candidates.

"We're in discussions to varying degrees with nine to 10 expansion markets," he said - various reports have mentioned St. Louis, Miami and Atlanta among others. "Clearly there's interest in Vancouver and Montreal, and now some reports out of Ottawa. Ultimately, we just want to make the best decision for the entire league. If that means expanding to another city in Canada, then we'll look at that."

It would appear then that Vancouver and Montreal are in a far more competitive situation than their presidents may feel, or at least admit.

From the Whitecaps perspective, though, they have almost everything going for them, including a strong owner with deep pockets and a track record of packing the stands for friendlies against David Beckham's L.A. Galaxy. With Seattle moving to MLS and rumours of Portland, too, there's a natural West Coast connection there.

The half-missing piece of the puzzle is the soccer-specific stadium, but a renovated B.C. Place could serve as home base, perhaps even long-term. Some MLS teams do play in large stadiums, but all control their venue, the dates and concessions.

"Nobody is questioning whether or not Vancouver has the ability to be a very successful major soccer market," said Courtemanche, "and they're certainly not questioning the potential ownership.

"It's our understanding that the renovated B.C. Place is going to be a world-class facility and we're going to continue to monitor the process."

The MLS board of governors will talk expansion at their all-star game meetings in Toronto on July 24, though Courtemanche said there was no timeline for a decision on the number of teams or the cities.