Saturday, July 26, 2008

Whitecaps to MLS?

This has been the rumour in sports betting circles for a while now, and yesterday's press conference, featuring Martin Nash's brother, makes the Vancouver bid official.

The CBC article:

NBA superstar Steve Nash announced Friday that he has invested in the Vancouver Whitecaps as part of the team's bid to bring Major League Soccer to the city.

The Whitecaps currently play in the United States Soccer League First Division, one level below MLS, but are looking to become one of two expansion teams that will begin play in MLS in 2011.

Nash said he would not be a majority owner, but will put a significant amount of money toward the project. Nash will join current Whitecaps owner Greg Kerfoot.

"I am really excited to be a part of the Whitecaps organization and play a role in our application to join Major League Soccer," said Nash. "This new partnership is a great fit for me. My passion for soccer and commitment to the community is well aligned with the Whitecaps vision."

"The Whitecaps are one of the top professional soccer clubs in North America, and Vancouver is a world-class city," added Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi. "We have a strong and dedicated ownership team, a clear vision, and have demonstrated leadership in soccer in North America."

Nash, a two-time most valuable player in the NBA, is a longtime soccer fan and his younger brother Martin currently plays for the Whitecaps.

MLS commissioner Don Garber announced Thursday that the league's board of governors approved plans to expand by two teams by 2011.

Garber said cities that were reviewed in the meeting as possible expansion candidates include Montreal, Ottawa and Vancouver.

Atlanta, Las Vegas, Portland and St. Louis are also being considered, as is a second team in New York.

Garber did not say when a decision would be made as to which cities will be granted an expansion club.

But Montreal and Vancouver are thought to have strong chances.

One name that has been bandied about as potential owner of a expansion club is George Gillett Jr., an American businessman who owns the Montreal Canadiens.

Launched in 1996, MLS has grown from a modest eight-team league that garnered little attention from the sports media to a 14-team operation in 2008 that features one of the most famous athletes on the planet, David Beckham.

Toronto FC, the first Canadian club in MLS, joined the league in 2007.

MLS will expand to 16 clubs with the addition of a team in Seattle in 2009 and Philadelphia in 2010.

That Montreal is also in the mix should come as no surprise; the mention of Ottawa is a relatively new one, however, and makes the situation a bit more complicated. To me it seems unlikely that MLS would admit three new Canadian franchises in the near future, and with Nash on board, the Vancouver bid seems like a slam dunk, so an Ottawa bid might hurt Montreal's chances.

The Canadian media can be too bullish at times, so it's good to see an American source trumpeting Canadian expansion.

Headline: Canadian expansion looks imminent for MLS

MLS moved one step closer to the outright naming of Montreal and Vancouver as their two newest franchises today by officially announcing the league's intent to expand by two more teams in 2011.

I like the sounds of it. Montreal and Vancouver making the leap to MLS is good for soccer in Canada, but only if Canadian players get to play. And it would be nice to have a few new USL franchises to provide a place for the next tier of Canadians to get a shot, although the understanding is that the Whitecaps will continue to field as USL-1 team in addition to their MLS franchise.

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For more pie-in-the-sky pro soccer development in Canada, check out the facebook page for Winnipeg Pro Soccer.

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