BY RANDY PHILLIPS
MONTREAL — Montreal Impact general manager Nick De Santis welcomed the news about the Vancouver Whitecaps joining Major League Soccer, saying it is a big step in the growth of the sport in Canada.
But De Santis added that the Impact also merit an opportunity to take their game to the next tier.
“It’s great to see another Canadian market get to the highest level of soccer (in North America),” De Santis said, referring to Wednesday’s announcement that Vancouver will become the second Canadian city in MLS, joining Toronto FC for the 2011 season. “It goes to show clubs like Vancouver, Toronto FC and ourselves belong at the highest level.
“Of course, hearing about Vancouver and knowing what our vision is and the way we do things, we should be there, too,” De Santis added. “That we’re not is a bit disappointing, but in the end I believe the club will always work to better itself in every aspect, be it on the field or in administration.
“I also believe in (team president) Joey Saputo’s vision, which is to see the franchise compete at the highest level,” De Santis added. “One day it will happen.”
The Whitecaps, reigning champions of the United Soccer Leagues First Division, will continue to play in the USL until the end of the 2010 season, before making the jump to MLS.
The Whitecaps and Impact are the only two Canadian teams in the USL.
The Whitecaps will continue to play in the 5,800-seat Swangard Stadium in Burnaby, B.C., until 2011, when their new MLS home will be BC Place, which is to be refurbished at a cost of $365 million, which includes a retractable roof. The Whitecaps’ plans are said to include a $75-million soccer-specific stadium on the Vancouver waterfront with 15,000 to 20,000 seats.
Vancouver’s MLS ownership group — made up of Whitecaps owner Greg Kerfoot, National Basketball Association star and Victoria native Steve Nash, Jeff Mallett, co-owner of Major League Baseball’s San Francisco Giants, and Steve Luczo, co-owner of the NBA’s Boston Celtics — paid $35 million US to join MLS, $5 million less than what the league was asking for a franchise-only fee from Montreal.
Saputo, in partnership with Montreal Canadiens owner George Gillett — who also is part-owner of Liverpool FC of the English Premier League — made a bid to pay MLS a privately financed $45 million Cdn to join the league. That included the cost of expanding Saputo Stadium from 13,000 seats to 20,000, as well as setting up a foundation to further develop the game at the grassroots level.
Montreal’s bid — with the Impact prepared to join the league as early as 2010 — was rejected last November, but Saputo said the door to future discussions with MLS remain open.
Impact players, who leave Saturday for Florida to train outdoors until March 31, were excited about Vancouver’s good fortune.
“It’s an extremely positive step for Canadian soccer,” goalkeeper Matt Jordan said.
“We’re obviously excited about anything that’s going to improve Canadian soccer for this country.”