For Canadian soccer people here in Southern California this weekend, the focus was not on the MLS Cup final, but rather on expansion, and more specifically the Montreal implosion.
Vancouver front man Jeff Mallett was at the game while Cyril Leeder of the Ottawa group toured the stadium earlier in the day, with his stadium design notebook in hand hoping to pick up a few ideas. By all accounts both the Vancouver and Ottawa delegations blew away the expansion committee with the quality of their applications.
But the league commissioner's mixed signals prevented us from getting a read on who the front runners really are. To use phrases like "they blew us away" and "the best application ever" with respect to those two presentations, and then follow it up by saying expanding into Canada might not be in the best financial interest of the league only confuses the issue.
However, commissioner Don Garber did tell me something that changes everything. He admitted that announcing two teams for 2011 and two more for a later date all at the same time is a possibility. That's an indication to me that there are several strong bids.
Now to Montreal. They won't admit it, but there's no question the league is disappointed and perhaps a trifle miffed at how the George Gillett/Joey Saputo team dropped the ball. Their bid was rejected outright by the league because it was "incomplete." Translation: they declined to pony up the full franchise fee and instead came in with a low-ball bid.
Could it be that the league was so shocked about what was in their bid that it took them a month to announce it had been rejected? Remember all the bids were submitted by Oct. 15. But Saputo claims the league never opted to negotiate or consult the Montreal group before rejecting the bid, even though there was a month to do so. Saputo is not happy with the league. But I think the league was privately concerned over who was actually taking the lead in Montreal.
Perhaps Gillett and Saputo were not on the same page. Maybe Gillett's Liverpool troubles are taking up all his concentration. Or perhaps Saputo got cold feet given the current economic climate. How about all of the above. Saputo did say that the fee was too high and that he believes it's too high for anyone else. Evidently though, that's not the case.
At any rate, this is a disaster for Montreal's MLS aspirations. Saputo says he is leaving the door open for another run at it down the road. And Garber will continue to say all the right things about Gillett and Saputo. But how can they go back there now? It has become "he said, he said" between Montreal and the league. It doesn't sound like solid building blocks for a strong foundation between the two.
Interesting times on the expansion front. But if the league does announce four more teams in the next few weeks, that would bring the league total to 20. It seems to me that would be the end of it for a long time to come.