Impact Whitecaps might join renegade soccer league - Montreal Gazette


BY RANDY PHILLIPS

MONTREAL – The Montreal Impact could join a majority of United Soccer Leagues First Division teams in a new league next year.

That’s one of the options the Team Owners’ Association says it has following the surprise sale of the USL last week by Nike Inc., to little-known NuRock Soccer Holdings, based in Atlanta. The association is angered about how the purchase of the league was concluded while it was in the bidding process.

The association was formed more than 18 months ago, with owners wanting more of a stake and say in how the USL operates, to ensure growth and improved marketing opportunities. Tuesday, it reconfirmed its commitment “to achieving a team-owner controlled league” and is prepared to pursue all avenues to make it happen.

“Right now, we have eight teams part of the owners’ association which have made a decision to call out the league, and these eight team owners are looking at their options,” Impact president Joey Saputo said Tuesday.

“But along with those eight, I can tell you the other teams that are not part of this group have expressed verbally that they’re interested in taking our lead and moving forward.

“If we decide we’re breaking away and starting our own league, so be it,” Saputo added. “We’ll have eight to 12 teams that will be with us next year.”

The Impact will continue to play, despite rumours to the contrary.

“Not playing next year is not an option for us,” Saputo said emphatically.

Along with the Impact, the association is comprised of owners of the Vancouver Whitecaps, Miami FC, Minnesota Thunder, the Atlanta Silverbacks — who return to play next season following a one-year hiatus — 2010 expansion franchise the Tampa Bay Rowdies, St. Louis Soccer United and the Carolina RailHawks.

Saputo said he and fellow owners were surprised when NuRock Soccer Holdings “came out of the blue” to buy the league.

“It’s very disappointing that Nike decided to sell to a group that was unheard of instead of selling to the group of owners,” Saputo said. “During the due diligence process, there were other bidders out there, and they saw the importance of having the USL Division I and having the current teams in Division I. And we got calls from them to explain what they were willing to do, and if they would buy the league are we still interested in working with them and moving forward with them.

“But we heard nothing about NuRock. We heard about them in the 11th hour, 11:59 to be exact. No call. So right off the bat, how serious can they be when they buy something that they don’t even consult, or talk to the principals that are involved?

“I hope they come and talk to us,” Saputo added. “And I hope they have a plan that makes sense for all of us. But right now, nothing shows me that that’s where they’re going.”

Montreal Gazette

rphillips@thegazette.canwest.com

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