By Bill Beacon
MONTREAL — The Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact are among seven clubs looking to form a new league that would break away from the United Soccer Leagues First Division.
The teams, unhappy with how USL-1 is owned and managed, have applied to the U.S. Soccer Federation for sanctioning as a Division II league. They will apply shortly to the Canadian Soccer Association as a Division I circuit to begin play in April.
However, Impact president Joey Saputo, who was named chairman of the new league's board of governors, said he has continued talking to the USL about staying put for next season, but is pessimistic about reaching a satisfactory deal.
"As chairman of the Team Owners Association, I can say that myself and every TOA member has always been open to discussions with the USL which would give the teams the requisite ownership and control over our league," Saputo said in a statement Tuesday.
"However, since the USL has historically and currently been unwilling to grant us that necessary ownership and control, we have applied to launch a new league and that endeavour has my personal attention and commitment."
The Impact defeated Vancouver in the USL-1 final last month for their third championship since 1994.
Earlier Tuesday, Saputo issued another statement that said he would "continue working on different options for the 2010 season, including the possibility that the Impact take part in USL-1 or in a new league."
A team spokesman said he was told a decision would be made within a week to 10 days.
Clubs needed to get their application in to the U.S. federation as soon as possible to keep the option of starting a new league open.
The USSF is expected to rule on the application at a meeting following the Major League Soccer final on Nov. 22.
In a statement issued later Tuesday, the USL said it will oppose the new league's application for certification by the U.S. federation "on the grounds that there is misrepresentation, interference with USL business operations and substantial debt amongst the membership."
For now, the new league would have Montreal, Vancouver, the Atlanta Silverbacks, Carolina Railhawks, Miami FC, Minnesota Thunder and a new team, St. Louis Soccer United. They are looking at other teams and organizations that have expressed interest in joining, said St. Louis principal owner Jeff Cooper, who was named spokesman for the league. They include international organizations looking to establish a presence in North America.
Tampa, which had been part of the dissident TOA, dropped out last week.
Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi said his club favours going ahead with the new league.
"Our position is that we're going to see the TOA position through to its conclusion," said Lenarduzzi. "We are not in negotiations with the USL.
"As far as Vancouver is concerned, we're forging ahead. That's our objective - to help that league get off the ground."
He added that the Whitecaps are not at war with the USL. The organization will maintain a women's team and squads in development leagues that are also run by the USL.
The Whitecaps and the Portland Timbers would have only one more season in USL-1 before they join Major League Soccer in 2011. But Lenarduzzi said it is still important to his club that there is a strong Division II league to aid in developing the sport in North America.
Team owners were unhappy when Nike/Umbro rejected their bid to buy the league and instead sold to a private owner, NuRock Soccer Holdings, on Aug. 27. They threatened to start their own league unless they were given more say in how USL-1 is run. The owners believe only a league that is owned by its teams can be properly managed.
While the level of play of the top USL-1 teams is close, the league remains far behind MLS in its marketing, its playing venues and overall credibility.
Lenarduzzi said details such as finding a name for the new league, hiring a commissioner and drawing up a schedule are still to be worked out. They are also at work on a marketing plan.
The new league's statement, which was released to the media by the Whitecaps but not by the Impact, had Saputo gung-ho to go ahead with the new league.
"This is not your typical new league," it quoted Saputo as saying. "Most of our teams have existed for years.
"We have united some of the best owners, teams and markets around a new vision for a professional soccer league in North America."
The Impact are also looking to get into MLS either in 2011 or 2012.
NuRock broke off talks with the TOA last month, but said it would continue to negotiate with individual clubs. It also issued a statement praising the rise of soccer in Canada and announcing the USL would soon open a full-service office north of the border. Ottawa has applied to join USL-1 in 2012.
The other USL-1 clubs - Portland, the Puerto Rico Islanders, Charleston Battery, Rochester Rhinos, Austin Aztecs and Cleveland City Stars - did not join the breakaway league.
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