By Lori Ewing
While the Montreal Impact may not have realized its dream of joining Major League Soccer in 2011, MLS commissioner Don Garber still sees the Canadian team as the league's next franchise.
"Today we believe that we're going to be a 20-team league," Garber said Monday in his annual state of the address. "We know we're going to have 18 teams in 2011 (with the addition of Vancouver and Portland).
"We've had productive conversations with Montreal to be our 19th team. We have not put a timetable as to when that team would join the league if we're able to reach agreement with them."
Garber said on a wide-ranging hour-long conference call that there were no active discussions going on for the 20th team.
Montreal, which plays in the United Soccer Leagues, withdrew its bid for a 2011 franchise at the last minute a year ago after learning the MLS was demanding a US$40 million expansion fee. That was a fourfold increase from what Toronto FC paid to get in. The franchise fee was later dropped to $35 million.
Philadelphia is set to join the league next season, followed by the Vancouver Whitecaps and Portland Timbers in 2011.
Both Vancouver and Montreal are involved in a brouhaha with the United Soccer Leagues that has Garber shaking his head. The Canadian teams are among seven clubs looking to form a new league that would break away from the USL First Division.
The teams, unhappy with how USL-1 is owned and managed, have applied to the U.S. Soccer Federation for sanctioning as a Division II league.
"There is a development taking place that I scratch my head about," Garber said. "I deal in a sport that hardly has the capability to be competing today with the NFL, with Major League Baseball or the NBA, and to think that we would have dysfunction at any level is disturbing to me.
"What this breakout is ultimately going to do, I can't comment on, but I certainly hope that for the sake of soccer that we're dealing with trying to build the sport and get more fans and job opportunities for players as opposed to some of these other challenges."
Garber said whether or not the Whitecaps decide to jump ship for another league won't affect the team's inclusion in the MLS in 2011.
"At the end of the day, it really doesn't affect us a whole lot, because in 2011, they're in our league," Garber said.
The league commissioner was asked about news the Whitecaps may have to open their MLS campaign at a temporary stadium on the old Empire Stadium site on the PNE grounds and not BC Place Stadium, the team's eventual home.
"We have not been told by the Whitecaps that there has been any decision that they're playing in a temporary facility in 2011, so it's premature for me to comment on it," Garber said. "Our focus right now is on BC Place, I've toured that facility twice, I've seen their plans for the roof, we believe it will be innovative. . ."
BC Place is undergoing a facelift after the 2010 Winter Olympics, scheduled for completion in the summer of 2011 that will feature a state-of-the-art retractable roof.
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