Whitecaps set to invite world stars - The Province

BY MARC WEBER Bob Lenarduzzi can't wait to see B.C. Place transformed into an intimate 20,000-seat stadium for Major League Soccer in 2011. He also can't wait for reasons to crack open that upper deck. A huge perk of MLS membership -- which Vancouver obtained Wednesday -- is that the Whitecaps will face top-flight international opponents. Lenarduzzi wouldn't go into details, but he hinted that annual visits from world-class clubs were almost guaranteed for the first few years of Vancouver's MLS existence. "We will likely be able, in the first years, to host four or five of the marquee clubs -- the Barcelonas, the Real Madrids," the Caps' president said. "That's certainly something we're looking forward to confirming." The Whitecaps drew 48,000 to B.C. Place to watch David Beckham's L.A. Galaxy in 2007. The Seattle Sounders, who kick off their MLS existence tonight, will host Chelsea in July. - The Whitecaps are not committed to taking advantage of MLS's Designated Player rule (i.e. the Beckham Rule) once they move up. Each MLS team is allowed to sign a DP with only $415,000 of the contract counting against the salary cap. Beckham originally signed with the Galaxy for a base salary of $6,500,000. Seattle inked former Arsenal midfielder Freddie Ljungberg for $1.3 million, though both players far exceed those figures after endorsement deals. "We're not going to get ahead of ourselves," said Whitecaps owner Jeff Mallett. "We hope there's a nucleus of four, five, six players that will evolve out of the club now and become that core base. Then we'll look at [a DP] to augment the team." - The Whitecaps' residency program is still a major topic of discussion between the club and MLS, which caps rosters at 20 senior players and four development players. Vancouver has put much into its residency program in order to develop players for its first team and for sale. "Their model doesn't necessarily suit our club structure and we don't want to abandon that," said Lenarduzzi. "[MLS] has agreed we will talk through it. They see what we are doing as an opportunity, perhaps, to look at the way they are addressing player development." MORE ON THE WEB There's plenty more soccer talk going on at Marc Weber's blog 'Back of the Net' at theprovince.com/sports/blogs © Copyright (c) Canwest News Service