Scott Brown and Randy Phillips
MONTREAL AND VANCOUVER - Despite reports to the contrary, the Montreal Impact have not officially left the United Soccer Leagues First Division to form a new league. At least, not yet.
Impact president Joey Saputo insists talks to resolve differences with USL are continuing in the face of steps taken to sanction a new league.
"I wish to reiterate that there are still ongoing talks between the Montreal Impact and the USL," Saputo said in a statement. "We continue working on different options for the 2010 season, including the possibility that the Impact take part in the USL-1 or in a new league.
"We created the Team Owners Association (TOA) in January, 2008 in order to take our destiny in our own hands, as is the case in any other league worldwide," said Saputo. "It is already Nov. 10 and we needed to submit to the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) an application for the creation of a new league for this option to remain viable."
The TOA, comprised of owners of the Atlanta Silverbacks, Carolina Railhawks, Miami FC, Minnesota Thunder, Vancouver Whitecaps and the Impact - all currently in the USL-1 - as well as St. Louis Soccer United, announced it would form a new pro league to begin play in North America next April.
The Whitecaps plan to play one season in the new league prior to joining Major League Soccer as an expansion franchise in the 2011 season.
"We believe that ownership involvement is crucial for a successful, healthy league," Vancouver Whitecaps FC president Bob Lenarduzzi said in a release. "Securing a league licence now is a preliminary step that will allow the teams to be in position to take further steps, should that be necessary. Our goal continues to be to pursue what is in the best interest of the sport."
An application was submitted to the United States Soccer Federation to sanction a new league as a "Division II Men's Outdoor Professional League" on Monday. A similar application will be submitted to the Canadian Soccer Association.
Saputo is chairman of the board of governors of the still unnamed new league.
"This is not your typical new league," Saputo said on Tuesday. "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 American.
"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," he said.
Further clarifying his position in another statement Tuesday night, Saputo added:
"Montreal is fully committed to its fellow teams and to the new league application. As chairman of the TOA, 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. However, since 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."
Since it was formed, the TOA has argued the USL has stifled the growth of the league for the past 25 years. But the last straw was when owners were caught by surprise when Nike sold USISL Inc., the parent company of the USL, to a non-USL-1 team owner in NuRock Soccer Holdings in late August.
There was no response by USL officials, but less than two weeks ago, league CEO Alex Papadakis said that negotiations with several teams considering leaving, including the Impact and Whitecaps, were over. But afterward the league stated it was open to "the return of the Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps to USL-1 for 2010, however, we continue to move forward with our preparations for next season."
Jeff Cooper, the principal owner of St. Louis Soccer United and spokesperson for the new league, said team owners have started a search for a commissioner and are actively finalizing other details - including a name for the league, as well as its sales and marketing plans.
The league intends to launch an extensive marketing campaign in the coming months, Cooper said.
In addition, he said the team owners are in active conversations with several teams and organizations throughout the world which have expressed interest in joining the new league.
"This will be a league that will offer the best of both worlds - outstanding experience and leadership at the ownership level combined with the promise and ability to chart our own course for success as a new league," Cooper said in a release.
"It's this structure that motivated me to bring St. Louis into the new league, and why I believe the new league will have a lot of success at launch next year and well into the future."
The Vancouver Sun and Montreal Gazette