BY BRUCE CONSTANTINEAU
Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber knows nothing about Vancouver Whitecaps' plans to play in a temporary stadium when they join MLS in 2011.
"We have not been told by the Whitecaps that there has been any decision that they're playing in a temporary facility in 2011," Garber said in a conference call Monday. "So it's premature for me to comment on that. I'm not trying to be evasive but that has not yet been communicated to us."
It has been widely reported the Whitecaps will play in a temporary stadium in their inaugural MLS season, starting in March 2011, until a renovated BC Place stadium is ready about four months later.
But Whitecaps representative Nathan Vanstone said plans for the temporary stadium - including its location - have not been confirmed so the team can't officially tell MLS where it will begin play in 2011.
"We're still working out those details," he said. "It looks like things will ultimately lead to [playing in a temporary stadium] but the plans have not been finalized so we don't know for sure where we'll be playing."
Most people assume a temporary 30,000-seat stadium on the old Empire Stadium site at the PNE will accommodate the Whitecaps and BC Lions until BC Place is renovated.
"We're exploring all options and playing in a temporary stadium is one of the options," Vanstone said.
The team will play in Swangard Stadium next year, although it might consider playing an international friendly in a bigger temporary stadium if it makes better business sense.
The $458-million BC Place renovation project - a key to the Whitecaps' successful MLS bid - includes a retractable roof similar to the one that covers Commerzbank Arena in Frankfurt, Germany. Garber said the league remains focused on BC Place, noting he has toured the stadium twice and visited the Frankfurt stadium with the new roof technology.
"We believe it will be innovative and might be a good model for other large stadiums around the country that might be good places to host MLS teams," he said.
Vancouver and Portland will become the 17th and 18th MLS franchises when they join the league in 2011 and Garber said there's a good chance Montreal will become the 19th MLS team.
"We have had productive conversations with Montreal to be our 19th team," he said. "We have not put a timetable as to when that team would join the league if we're able to reach agreement with them."
Vancouver and Montreal both plan to play in a new breakaway soccer league next season after team owners could not come to terms with the owners of United Soccer Leagues, the current league for both teams.
Garber said he scratches his head over the conflict that exists in second-tier soccer in North America.
"Soccer cannot compete today with the NFL or Major League Baseball or the NBA and to think that we would have dysfunction at any level is disturbing to me," he said.
On a positive note, Garber feels the launch of the Seattle Sounders MLS franchise this year has been one of the best expansion stories in all of professional sports. The Sounders topped league attendance this year with an average of more than 31,000 fans at each home game, 10,400 fans a game more than second place Los Angeles Galaxy.
"I think the launch of the Sounders will go down in history as one of the key moments in the history of the sport in this country," Garber said.
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