Whitecaps in a league of their own design - Vancouver Sun


Vancouver will compete in one of two six-team divisions in as yet unnamed circuit, as rival leagues settle their differences

By Ian Walker

The Vancouver Whitecaps pride themselves on being North America's flagship soccer development model. Turns out they've been telling the truth all these years. We only bring it up because outside of Vancouver finally having a league to play in next season, there really wasn't a lot else interesting to come out of a 45-minute United States Soccer Federation teleconference on Thursday.

Actually, that's not all completely true. Some may find it neat that the league will consist of two aptly named six-team conferences. Vancouver -along with teams from Baltimore, Carolina, Miami, Montreal and St. Louis - will make up the North American Soccer League Conference while the United Soccer League Conference will be represented by teams in Austin, Minnesota, Portland, Puerto Rico, Rochester and Tampa Bay.

There will be inter-conference games and a playoff system will determine the league champion. As of today, there's no schedule per se. Oh, and the name of the league also wasn't made official, although USSF Division 2 is the likely winner.

Outside that, who cares what happens when the one-year agreement between the NASL and USL expires? When's David Beckham coming to town is more like it. We need not remind you that the Whitecaps are clear of this mess with their move up to Major League Soccer in 2011. And don't you down there in Portland try to say you're not thinking the same thing. The Timbers were named the league's 18th team shortly after Vancouver was awarded the first of two MLS expansion spots last March.

"In all actuality, it's ended up being a great resolution," said Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi, shortly after arriving in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for NASL meetings and the MLS Combine on Thursday.

Not that there was ever going to be a bad resolution for the Whitecaps. As long as there was one, of course.

It was about 35 minutes into the teleconference when USSF president Sunil Gulati singled out the Whitecaps. Gulati praised the 34-year-old club for its youth programs as well as its contributions to soccer this side of the pond. Thank goodness he did too, or you'd be reading all about how the USSF will be overseeing the yet-to-be named league ... and something about a board of directors with representatives from each of the 12 teams ... and as part of the agreement, all pending claims between the USL and NASL will be dropped. Yawn.

Even the two former combatants played nice. Both sides described meetings over the past week as cordial -whatever that means. It's not a very nice liqueur; not that officials from the NASL and USL were headed off for drinks afterward.

"The good news was we all had the same goal, to get on the field," said Jeff Cooper, on behalf of the NASL, a breakaway league created by a group of disgruntled USL owners. "It's been a long process, but it's a fair resolution so we feel good about it."

The USL "feels the very same way," said its chief executive officer, Alex Papadakis. Although that is all he'd say about that.

Gulati stressed often that the agreement was for only one season, but was quick to assure the other 10 cities that he would continue to work with the USL and NASL to build a long-term solution for division 2 professional soccer.

"It's what is important," he said.

Speak for yourself.

Further details of the new league, including rules, schedule, television rights and other operational issues will be released in the coming weeks.

iwalker@vancouversun.com
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