By John F. Molinaro, CBC Sports
The owners of six soccer clubs, including the Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact, announced Tuesday that they plan to leave the USL-1 and form their own breakaway league.
The new league will begin play in April 2010, the Whitecaps confirmed.
The other USL teams are the Atlanta Silverbacks, Carolina RailHawks, Miami FC and the Minnesota Thunder. Also involved in the new league is St. Louis Soccer United, a soccer investment and development group dedicated to bringing a pro soccer team to the city of St. Louis.
The six USL team owners, collectively known as the Team Owners Association (TOA), submitted an application on Monday to the United States Soccer Federation for sanctioning of the new league. A similar application for sanctioning will be submitted to the Canadian Soccer Association shortly. The TOA would first need permission and sanctioning before it could form its own league
Asked by CBCSports.ca if the Whitecaps would consider a return to USL next year, Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi said, "Our focus is on seeing the application through to its conclusion, and that's all we're really thinking about right now."
Joey Saputo, president of the reigning USL champion Montreal Impact, was elected chairman of the board of governors of the new league, which does not have a name.
"This is not your typical new league," Saputo said in a news release. "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.
"We look forward to elevating our teams and league in order to give more opportunities to players, coaches, media and sponsors, entertain our fans and play our role in helping soccer truly recognize its potential in the United States and Canada."
A statement released from the TOA Tuesday morning quoted Saputo speaking enthusiastically about the new league, but the Impact owner then issued his own statement later in day, stating he was still negotiating with the USL and wasn't ruling out the Impact returning to the league in 2010.
Saputo then sent out another statement on Tuesday afternoon, stating that "Montreal is fully committed to its fellow teams and to the new league application" and that this project "has my personal attention and commitment."
The decision of the teams to leave the USL and form their own league hardly comes as a surprise.
Lenarduzzi recently said that his club was "in limbo" with regard to its participation in the USL in 2010 after negotiations ended between the team and the league's new owners.
The TOA was seeking more input in the way the league was run and wanted more say in marketing decisions.
Lenarduzzi said there wasn't enough common ground between the ULS and the group of team owners to satsify their concerns. He also confirmed that the Tampa Bay Rowdies left the TOA last week and will compete in the USL.
Lenarduzzi stressed that the TOA's decision to form a breakaway league will have long-term benefits for soccer.
"The viability of the game in Canada and the United States is not just dependent on Major League Soccer. Like in most countries, you have second-tier divisions … and in order for soccer to grow in this country, you need an evolving second tier league," Lenarduzzi stated.
Vancouver and Montreal are two of the most successful teams in the USL, which is one level below MLS, the top pro soccer league in the U.S. and Canada.
The two clubs met for the USL championship last month, with the Impact winning the two-game, total-goals series 6-3 on aggregate. It was the league's first all-Canadian final, and the third league title for the Impact, who also won the crown in 1994 and 2004.
The new league will only be a temporary home for the Whitecaps, who are scheduled to join MLS in 2011. Montreal hopes to follow Vancouver to MLS shortly thereafter.
Why not stick it out?
The new league will only be a temporary home for the Vancouver Whitecaps, who are scheduled to join Major League Soccer in 2011. The Montreal Impact hope to follow Vancouver to MLS shortly thereafter.
Considering Vancouver will soon compete in MLS, wouldn't it make sense for the Whitecaps to simply stick it out for a season and play in USL in 2010?
That wasn't an option, according to Whitecaps president Bobby Lenarduzzi, who said there were other issues involved — namely creating a viable second-tier league to help grow soccer in Canada and the U.S.
"In our case, we're doing what we think is best for the game overall in the long run," Lenarduzzi told CBCSports.ca.
Lenarduzzi also refuted claims that the Whitecaps' motivations were self-serving.
"Absolutely not," Lenarduzzi stated. "If it were self-serving, we'd be playing in the USL next year."