Whitecaps 'still in a battle' for 2011 MLS expansion franchise - The Vancouver Sun

It's a familiar scene for Bob Lenarduzzi. The Vancouver Whitecaps president has attended past Major League Soccer drafts, using the annual event as a way to recruit and scout players for his United Soccer Leagues First Division team.

But only two years removed from Vancouver possibly being one of the teams to make a selection in the four-round process, Lenarduzzi found himself Thursday trying not to think too much about what might be. The Whitecaps are among six teams looking for one of two expansion franchises for the 2011 MLS season.

"There's lots of people aware we've submitted a bid and that it's a pretty solid bid, so we're hearing lots of things from people in general," said Lenarduzzi, who is joined in St. Louis by Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson, among others.

"At this stage, it doesn't mean much because we haven't really had any clear indication from the league. So as far as we're concerned, we're still in a battle for those two spots."

Word is MLS is within weeks of announcing its next two expansion markets. The league promised when bids were submitted last October to make its decision in advance of its 2009 season, which kicks off March 18.

Adding intrigue to the expansion announcement is a rumour that the Philadelphia franchise may not be ready to begin play in 2010.

"I wish we could give you hard commitments today, but we're not even sure the stadium is going to be built," Nick Sakiewicz, CEO of the company which owns the yet-to-be-named MLS club, told the Delaware County Times earlier this month. "If the [financial] markets tank next month, then we won't build this thing. We'll be out $15 million and everyone goes home."

On Thursday, the Philadelphia franchise issued a press release offering fans the chance to name the team, but it said nothing of the stadium issue.

"There are some concerns, but it really comes down to the economy," said Lenarduzzi. "We're being told there's been a shovel in the ground and are moving forward as planned. When it comes to Philadelphia, the league is not even discussing contingency plans. They've been pretty adamant Philadelphia will be there."

And if it's not? Lenarduzzi chose not to speculate.

The prevailing thought, however, is one of the six franchises hoping for an expansion team for 2011 -- Vancouver, Ottawa, Portland, St. Louis, Atlanta and Miami -- would take Philadelphia's spot.

It's extremely unlikely Vancouver would be one of those teams as the Whitecaps cannot begin play out of a renovated BC Place until the 2011 season.

It's believed Miami would welcome the chance to join a year early. Miami's backers include Bolivian cellphone mogul Marcelo Claure, whose $5 billion US company is based in the Florida city.

iwalker@vancouversun.com
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