By Marc Weber
Fans of the Vancouver Whitecaps don't have to wait until 2011 to see their team in a new league.
Tuesday morning, the group of disgruntled United Soccer Leagues First Division owners calling themselves the TOA (Team Owners Association) announced the formation of a breakaway league that will begin play in April, 2010.
Vancouver, which joins North America's premier loop, Major League Soccer, in 2011, is part of the TOA, along with the Montreal Impact, Carolina RailHawks, Miami FC and Minnesota Thunder.
St. Louis Soccer United, a group that runs a Women's Professional Soccer franchise and has tried to bring MLS to that city, is also on board.
Jeff Cooper, the man behind the St. Louis franchise, tried to buy USL-1 from Nike, Inc., in August — a bid backed by many, if not all of the TOA clubs — but the league was instead sold to NuRock Soccer Holdings, a move that set in motion the split.
The TOA submitted on Monday an application for sanctioning to the United States Soccer Federation and will shortly submit one to the Canadian Soccer Association.
In a press release early Tuesday, they announced Impact president Joey Saputo as chairman of the board of governors for the new league, while the search is on for a commissioner.
“This is not your typical new league,” Saputo said in the release. “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 America.
“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.”
The Impact beat the Whitecaps in the USL-1 championship final last month. While Montreal is expected to make the jump to MLS shortly after Vancouver, both organizations have stated that they'll keep a development side in a second-tier league.
Vancouver also has several other teams under the USL umbrella: their residency team plays in the USL Premier Development League; their women's team in the W-League; and youth teams in the Super-Y League.
Vancouver and Montreal were both model franchises in USL-1, a league that will move ahead without five of its teams from 2009.
Last week, USL-1 officials met at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., to plan for 2010. The split leaves them with teams in Portland — who will also jump to MLS in 2011 — Puerto Rico, Rochester, Austin and Cleveland.
New York and Tampa are set to join in 2010 and representatives from Edmonton, Ottawa, Baltimore and Detroit were also present at that meeting.
Tampa has been aligned with the TOA since the sale to NuRock, but representatives were at the Beaverton meeting and they were not announced as part of the breakaway league Tuesday. A league source told the Province that New York and Tampa made three-year commitments to USL-1 when they were accepted as expansion franchises, which differs from the other TOA teams, whose commitment to USL-1 was on a year-to-year basis.
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