Seven's not heaven in MLS bidding - The Province

By no means do we think it's a slam dunk, but we've put our best foot forward'

Marc Weber

Listen up, class ... any ideas why seven cities, including Vancouver, are avidly seeking an MLS expansion franchise?
The Whitecaps' official opposition numbers six.

Major League Soccer announced Wednesday a list of seven potential markets for its 17th and 18th franchises. The two newest teams could be announced as soon as the MLS Cup on Nov. 23 and as late as March 2009.

Vancouver is joined in the running by Montreal, Ottawa, St. Louis, Portland, Miami and Atlanta.

The Whitecaps currently play in the United Soccer Leagues First Division, a tier below the MLS -- a league that adds its 15th franchise, Seattle, in 2009, then its 16th, Philadelphia, in 2010.

The Caps ownership group grew to three when Greg Kerfoot welcomed two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash, as well as former Yahoo COO and current San Francisco Giants part-owner Jeff Mallett.

Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini explored a rival bid, but did not submit one.

"We feel we've got all the bases covered, but we're not sure what the decision-making criteria is," said Vancouver Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi.

"Off the top, Montreal would be comparable to us, and beyond that, Ottawa is starting from scratch. The Portland Timbers have a great history as well. If you look at the ownership groups in Miami and Atlanta, that's pretty impressive.

"By no means do we think it's a slam dunk, but we think we've put our best foot forward."

Toronto FC paid a $10-million expansion fee when it joined in 2005; Philly paid $30 million. MLS will ask for between $40 million and $50 million in this round of expansion and the cold economic climate could impact some bids.

The Canadian dollar has dropped almost 15 per cent since July 11.

"It's obviously a different scenario now that it was even two or three months ago, and it is a concern," said Lenarduzzi, "but it's not something that has stopped us from moving forward. We hope the economy will correct itself and it won't be as big an issue."

Vancouver's soccer history and club structure is second-to-none, however the lack of a soccer-specific venue could be a sticking point.

With the waterfront stadium stalled, the Whitecaps have a lease agreement on the table to play out of a renovated B.C. Place in 2011.

"We have a very solid venue in B.C. Place," said Lenarduzzi, whose group nevertheless continues to negotiate with the port authority for the prized waterfront location.

© The Vancouver Province 2008