By Marc Weber
Vancouver Whitecaps fans likely won't have to wait until 2011 see their team in a new league.
Tuesday morning, the Team Owners Association -- a group of five disgruntled United Soccer Leagues First Division owners, plus former USL-1 member Atlanta and newcomer St. Louis -- announced their formal application to the United States Soccer Federation for league status.
It's the penultimate phase in a drawn-out dispute between divided USL-1 clubs and league officials. The spat went public in late August when Nike, Inc. sold the entire 700-plus team USL umbrella to Atlanta-based NuRock Soccer Holdings.
Seeking control of the league, TOA teams had backed bids from Miami FC owner Traffic Sports and later St. Louis Soccer United, but lost out to NuRock.
Vancouver, which is jumping to North America's premier loop, Major League Soccer, in 2011, is part of the breakaway USL-1 pack along with the Montreal Impact, Carolina RailHawks, Miami FC and Minnesota Thunder.
"The owners want more of an involvement," said Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi. "If they're going to invest money in their individual markets, then they'd like to know the same investment is taking place at the USL level and, as far as the [TOA] owners are concerned that hasn't happened."
Both Vancouver, who've been accepted into MLS, and Montreal, who could well follow, have stated that they would run a development team in a second-tier league in addition to their MLS side. So this is not simply a one-year solution, said Lenarduzzi.
The breakaway league would begin play in April, 2010, though it still needs USSF and Canadian Soccer Association approval, something that could come as early as Nov. 23.
Lenarduzzi acknowledged that there is a risk. Should the application be turned down, clubs could be left begging the USL to take them back. The USL released a statement Tuesday afternoon saying it would oppose the league's registration.
"While USL does not oppose the right of an entity to affiliate with USSF per the governing organization, it does oppose the current application before the Federation on the grounds that there is misrepresentation, interference with USL business operations and substantial debt amongst the membership," read the statement.
If the split goes through, it leaves USL-1 with the Portland Timbers, who are also jumping to MLS in 2011, the Puerto Rico Islanders, the Rochester Rhinos, the Austin Aztex and the Cleveland City Stars, who are looking for new ownership.
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