One more city out of running for MLS expansion teams - The Province

And then there were five. The Vancouver Whitecaps' competition for two Major League Soccer expansion teams by 2011 just got even thinner. Originally there were seven cities that submitted bids, which dropped to six when Montreal's was rejected by the league. Now the Atlanta Business Chronicle reports that the Atlanta group, headed by NFL Falcons owner Arthur Blank, has withdrawn its bid ". . . primarily because we didn't feel we would be able to complete a public/private partnership arrangement in the timeframe necessary to build a soccer stadium by 2011," said Blank. Vancouver is left battling Portland, Miami, St. Louis and Ottawa and the announcement will come before the start of the 2009 MLS season in mid-April. MLS officials have said that the door is open for a team to come in by 2010, if the situation is right, although 2011 is more likely. Miami, which is backed by Spanish soccer giant FC Barcelona, has stated a preference to begin play in 2010. There is also concern surrounding Philadelphia's franchise, which is set to start play in 2010 as MLS's 16th franchise. Groundbreaking on the new stadium in the suburb of Chester has taken place but there is political posturing going on between the owners and the county for funding. The stadium development is part of a larger $500 million housing, shopping and entertainment complex. Seattle FC, meanwhile, starts play as MLS’s 15th franchise this season and has hit the 18,000 mark in season ticket sales. Atlanta was not considered a favourite by many, so this announcement, potentially, has no positive effect on Vancouver's bid. Portland has a strong history of supporting soccer and Miami has Barcelona's backing. St. Louis has been a pet project of MLS commissioner Don Garber's for some time and lost out to Philly in the last round. Ottawa's bid is backed by Senators owner Eugene Melnyk. The Atlanta Silverbacks of the United Soccer Leagues First Division, the same league as the Whitecaps, suspended operations after 2008 and there's no word on if they are coming back in 2010. Blank has nothing to do with them, however. © Copyright (c) The Province