Vancouver among seven bidding for two 2011 franchise spots available in Major League Soccer
Lyndon Little - with files from Canwest News Service
While admittedly impressed with some of the names associated with the rival groups, Vancouver Whitecaps' president Bob Lenarduzzi Wednesday sounded supremely confident his team will be one of the successful bidders for the two Major League Soccer expansion franchises up for grabs for the 2011 season.
The MLS officially announced that, in addition to Vancouver, bids have been received from Atlanta, Miami, Montreal, Ottawa, Portland and St. Louis.
The 14-team league has grown by one team in each of the past two seasons, with Toronto FC joining in 2007 and San Jose this year.
It will add Seattle next season and Philadelphia in 2010. The two successful bidders for 2011 will be franchise Nos. 17 and 18.
Rumoured possible bids from groups in New York City and Las Vegas failed to materialize.
"I haven't seen the other bids, but I feel confident the other teams will have trouble matching us," Lenarduzzi said.
"All we've really done is tell our story. Next year will be 35 years [since the first Whitecaps team debuted in 1974]. We have a solid ownership. Greg Kerfoot has demonstrated over the past five years that he's prepared to invest in the game significantly. And then we have a club structure that, quite frankly, I feel is second to none in either Canada or the U.S. So I feel we've got all the bases covered."
While Kerfoot is the current sole owner of the team, the Vancouver MLS bid adds NBA superstar Steve Nash and former Yahoo chief operating officer Jeff Mallett to the planned ownership group.
Lenarduzzi went on to give an initial "first glance" opinion of the opposition.
"Off the top, I'd say Montreal would be comparable to us," he said. "They have an existing [United Soccer Leagues] team. They have a soccer specific stadium. Beyond that, Ottawa is starting from scratch. Portland, with the Timbers, have quite a history as well and a solid franchise in the USL.
"And, if you look at the ownership groups in Miami, with European powerhouse FC Barcelona involved, and Atlanta, with the owner of the NFL Falcons [Arthur Blank] part of that bid, that's pretty impressive.
"By no means do we feel it's a slam dunk. But we certainly feel we've put our best foot forward."
No rumoured rival bid from Vancouver Canucks' owner Francesco Aquilini materialized.
"As far as we were concerned there never was a second bid," insisted Lenarduzzi. "That rumour was never clarified. But we're delighted we're the only bid."
While their current plans are to move into a renovated BC Place Stadium in 2011 the Whitecaps are continuing to push for their own waterfront stadium.
"We're still in discussions with the [Vancouver] Port Authority which we're keeping internal at the moment," said Lenarduzzi. "But the city has told us that, once our negotiations with the Port are concluded successfully, they're ready to go."
Senators COO Cyril Leeder said the addition of one or two more Canadian teams would enhance the opportunities for a national broadcasting deal and national level sponsorship. It also gives Ottawa and Toronto just one more form of rivalry.
He did acknowledge that the groups in Montreal and Vancouver are formidable.
While Vancouver has star power in its bid, with Nash -- a pretty fair soccer player in the his youth -- teaming with Kerfoot and Mallett, the Montreal bid is being pursued by businessmen Joey Saputo, who owns the United Soccer League's Montreal Impact, and George Gillett, who owns the NHL's Montreal Canadiens and is a part-owner of the English Premier League's Liverpool FC.
Montreal already has a "soccer-specific" stadium that could easily be expanded to meet MLS guidelines.
Ottawa's bid will be hurt by the fact there would be no temporary home in place for a team, although Ottawa Senators owner Larry Melnyk plans to build a soccer-specific stadium adjacent to Scotiabank Place.
Regardless of the stadium situation, it would be a stretch to think the league would select two Canadian cities when it has four highly credible U.S. bidders, including Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank and Miami, where the MLS failed in 2001 after a three-season run.
Portland's bid has Merritt Paulson, owner of the USL's Portland Timbers and minor league baseball Beavers.
Of St. Louis, Abbott said prospects for a new stadium are further advanced than when it narrowly missed out on an expansion club in 2006.
© The Vancouver Sun 2008