Franchises may be competing for MLS expansion spot
BURNABY, B.C. -- In a Major League Soccer boardroom over the coming months, the Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Montreal Impact might be rival bidders, both seeking expansion franchises in the best league North America has to offer.
Yesterday, however, their competition was waged in a United Soccer Leagues First Division semi-final match before 4,992 at Swangard Stadium, and the clubs proved why they'd be better expansion bedfellows than opponents.
The Whitecaps, who ended Montreal's dream season, won 2-0 and advanced to the USL-1 championship final for the second time in three years. The Impact and Vancouver also met in the 2006 semi-finals, which the Whitecaps took en route to winning the league championship.
The Whitecaps will play host to the Puerto Rico Islanders in the league championship game on Sunday, but the momentum these sides built over the course of the season, combined with Toronto FC's wildly successful showing in 2007, bodes well for the Canadian bids.
For example, the match yesterday was broadcast by a digital specialty television channel, Fox Sports World Canada, and by three radio stations, including French and English outlets in Montreal.
The Canadian MLS applications, which include an Ottawa bid by the NHL's Senators, certainly do not set U.S. television networks abuzz with visions of ratings. But the combined commercial power of two Canadian clubs joining the circuit together could team with Toronto FC to land a national television deal in Canada.
That would be much more difficult for MLS governors to ignore.
"To me, that makes the most sense," Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi said when asked whether the Canadian bids might indirectly help each other. "I don't know the bids coming from the States, but I don't think there are many better, on paper, than Vancouver and Montreal. You don't want to get cocky, but it's all there."
The Impact and Whitecaps will submit their bids by the Oct. 15 deadline. The MLS is expected to reach a verdict next spring. The new teams will begin play in 2011.
The Whitecaps bid is financed by Greg Kerfoot, a reclusive Vancouver businessman and soccer philanthropist, and basketball superstar Steve Nash. The Impact are owned by the billionaire Saputo family, and the MLS bid is in partnership with George Gillett,the owner of the NHL's Canadiens.
This year, the Impact opened the 12,500-seat Saputo Stadium, a soccer-specific park, playing to large crowds and winning the inaugural CONCACAF Canadian championships over Toronto FC and the Whitecaps. Montreal is almost assured of advancing to the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-finals later this winter after emerging with a road victory over a Honduran side last Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Whitecaps set an attendance record, 94,624 over 19 games, nearly 10,000 more than the previous mark, set in four fewer games in 2001.