Controversy kicks up over decision - The Province

League picks Vancouver over Puerto Rico thanks to superior proposal

Marc Weber

USL CHAMPIONSHIP
United Soccer Leagues
First Division championship final
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Puerto Rico Islanders
Sunday, 4 p.m.
Swangard Stadium
TV: Fox Sports World Canada
Radio: TEAM 1040 AM

The skinny: Top-seeded Puerto Rico and second-seeded Vancouver met three times this season. The Whitecaps were 0-1-2 head-to-head, losing 1-0 and tying 1-1 on the road, and tying 0-0 at Swangard Stadium. ... Vancouver won it all in 2006, while Puerto Rico is making its first title-game appearance.

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The Vancouver Whitecaps are pleasantly surprised. The Puerto Rico Islanders are positively put off.

Polar opposite reactions obviously emerged after the United Soccer Leagues announced Sunday that Vancouver will host the championship final on Sunday.

Puerto Rico was the league's best team this season, clipping Vancouver by a single point, but that is only one of the determining factors used by the league. All semifinalists submit a hosting proposal.

"The higher-seeded team has certain first-rights of hosting, providing it is willing and able to meet all the specifications put forth," explained USL executive vice president and chief operating officer Tim Holt.

"It's our responsibility, as it's a league-owned event, to do what's best in the interest of the league.

"I won't say that it was an easy decision and we knew it would be an unpopular one. But when we got to Vancouver's proposal, it was a superior proposal on an overall basis."

It's a dream scenario for the Whitecaps, who haven't hosted a championship final since the CSL days in 1992.

Some thought they would host in 2006, but Rochester, N.Y., with newly minted Paetec Park, earned the nod. The word on this year's final broke right after Sunday's win over Montreal and it was especially sweet for the local veterans.

"[Winning in] '06 was great," said Vancouver native Alfredo Valente. "It was the first championship for a lot of us in this league, but there was one thing that was missing -- not being able to play at home.

"To be front and centre, with a good buzz around the team ... for a lot of us who have been here for a while, to play a championship game in Vancouver is a great feeling."

The Islanders, meanwhile, can't help but feel jilted and head coach Colin Clarke spoke his mind Monday. He lashed out at the league, saying that it was simply a financial decision.

"I think there's a lot of confusion about what's happened," said the former Northern Ireland international. "We knew it was a bid process, but what goes into that ... money talks, I guess.

"You'd like [the process] to start with what Puerto Rico has done for this league, what we've done through the CONCACAF games [they currently lead Group D in the Champions League].

"Vancouver wants to go play in MLS and Puerto Rico will still be around."

While the hosting application is mostly a requirements checklist, there is a financial component in that teams declare what percentage of the gate receipts they will give back to the league.

Television [the game is on Fox Soccer Channel in the U.S.] was perhaps the biggest factor in this case, as the league pays for the broadcast. Holt acknowledged that setting up shop in Puerto Rico was far more challenging.

Holt called Clarke's comments "a mischaracterization of the situation."

"It's a factor," he said of the financial component, "but that isn't the only factor. They [Puerto Rico] were outbid overall."

Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi was just elated to be hosting a title game for the first time in 16 years. That '92 season, when the Winnipeg Fury snapped the 86ers streak of four straight championships, was his last as a player.

"We don't feel at all as though we've gotten something we shouldn't have," he said. "[The process] is a list of requirements and that [financial component] is all a part of it.

"When we got word [Sunday] it was a huge, huge bonus. The ability to host a championship game further profiles the sport in this city."

The game will remain at Swangard Stadium, which has a capacity of 5,288 plus standing room.

The Islanders announced a crowd of 9,112 for their Sunday win over the Rochester Rhinos at Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium.

mweber@theprovince.com
© The Vancouver Province 2008