Montreal out of MLS expansion bid - The Province

Vancouver's was 'one of the best' bid presentations made to MLS board Marc Weber Vancouver Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi expressed disappointment Saturday over Montreal's elimination from the race for two Major League Soccer expansion franchises. This sentiment despite the popular notion that Montreal was a favourite among the seven cities vying for MLS's 17th and 18th franchises by 2011. Vancouver is left in a mix with Ottawa, Portland, St. Louis, Atlanta and Miami. MLS commissioner Don Garber made the surprising announcement during his annual address on Friday. "The [Montreal] market is not gone forever, but it is gone for now," Garber told reporters, explaining that financial issues arose around the expansion fee, which is expected to be $40 million, as well as refinancing Saputo Stadium, which needs to be expanded from 13,000 to 20,000 seats. Montreal's bid was backed by Joey Saputo, owner of the United Soccer League's First Division Impact, and Montreal Canadiens' owner George Gillett, who is also part-owner of English Premiership side Liverpool. "I was surprised like everyone, disappointed as well," Lenarduzzi said from Florida where he is attending United Soccer Leagues meetings. "We viewed it as a boost for the game in Canada if both Vancouver and Montreal could secure the two spots. "They've supported the game and are interested in the development of the game, and the domino effect would be immense." Four of the potential franchises met with the MLS board for 30 minutes on Friday, with current Whitecaps owner Greg Kerfoot and former Yahoo! chief operating officer Jeff Mallett representing the Vancouver bid. The Whitecaps prospective ownership group also includes Kerfoot's Silicon Valley buddy Steve Luczo, and two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash. Garber, who says glowing things about every group, called Vancouver's presentation "one of the best I've ever seen, and I was involved in sports expansion in [the NFL]." He said that MLS hoped to make an announcement on the successful bids at the start of 2009 and definitely before the season kicks off on March 21. "From our perspective, we feel it went well," is all Lenarduzzi would say. The Whitecaps' president wasn't concerned about Montreal's withdrawal hurting Vancouver's chances, to the degree MLS might have looked favourably on adding both cities to maximize national sponsorship deals or television contracts. "We know there are business-related opportunities," he said. "But Toronto certainly hasn't struggled having one Canadian team in the [MLS] market." The Whitecaps, who believe their soccer roots, club system, ownership and staff are second to none among bid cities, have a lease to play out of B.C. Place starting in 2011. Earlier this month they released a rendering of a renovated B.C. Place with a retractable roof, draping to cover the upper deck, and seats reconfigured closer to the field. mweber@theprovince.com © The Vancouver Province 2008