Fans prefer future in MLS - The Province

Caps work hard to fine-tune their bid for new franchise Marc Weber The Vancouver Whitecaps still have to convince Major League Soccer's executives that they belong in their league. Whitecaps fans, on the other hand, don't need convincing that MLS is the place to be. Sunday night's United Soccer Leagues First Division clash between Vancouver and the Minnesota Thunder at Swangard Stadium was billed as MLS Rally Night as the Whitecaps were aiming to strengthen their bid book with video, audio and photos. And while it took some extra prodding from organizers to get the optics they were looking for -- fans failed in a first-half attempt to co-ordinate their mass "Whitecaps, MLS" chants and the flashing of signs they were handed when they entered the stadium -- the chatter on the concourse and in the stands was one-sided. "[MLS] is a more major league," said Kim Ryan of Coquitlam, attending her first Whitecaps game. "There'd be more hype that would go with it. More fans, more energy." "It's obviously a higher profile league with stars like David Beckham and other European players planning to come to MLS," said Jaemin Yu of Burnaby, also a newbie, though neither he nor Ryan were there because it was MLS rally night. Some have suggested that the gulf between USL-1 and MLS is overstated. That it's mostly hype. They cite things like the Whitecaps positive friendlies against the L.A. Galaxy and the success of Vancouver and the Montreal Impact in the CONCACAF Champions League. It really doesn't matter, though, because perception is reality when you're trying to market a major sports franchise. And the popular perception was clear on Sunday. "[MLS] is better soccer and it'd be great for the city," said Neil, who had been coming to games since 1977. "The club needs it to expand and the city needs it, too. We need the stadium, downtown, to be the complete package." Most of those who think MLS will pass on Vancouver for 2011 believe it will be over the stadium issue. Failing thus far to negotiate a waterfront land deal with the Port Authority, the Whitecaps have a lease in place to play out of a renovated B.C. Place in 2011. The deadline for MLS bid submissions is Oct. 15, and the league will announce its 17th and 18th franchises late this year or early next. Eight cities, including Montreal, have so far indicated they're interested. mweber@theprovince.com © The Vancouver Province 2008