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MLS eyes Vancouver for possible expansion

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MLS eyes Vancouver for possible expansion

Jim Jamieson

CanWest News Service

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

VANCOUVER - It seems Major League Soccer has Vancouver in its sights.

"I think Vancouver will be a fantastic market," MLS commissioner Don Garber - who was in Vancouver two weeks ago to discuss an MLS expansion franchise with two potential ownership groups - said Tuesday from his Manhattan office.

"It has so many special things about it. The intimacy of the downtown environment and the potential for a soccer stadium there, the popularity of the Whitecaps, which is one of the model franchises in the (United Soccer League). There are certainly a handful of very successful pro sports operators, including (owner) Greg Kerfoot, who's done a great job with the Whitecaps. We're intrigued by the gateway to Asia and the different ethnic groups in that market."

The Whitecaps - who play at 5,400-capacity Swangard Stadium - have been campaigning for several years to build a 15,000-seat waterfront stadium, but red tape has delayed the project's progress. The club hopes to go before Vancouver city council in September to get permission to apply for re-zoning permits.

Given that Kerfoot owns the waterfront land on which the proposed stadium would sit, and that he would build it with his own money, it appears that any ownership group would have to be in partnership with the Whitecaps owner.

But Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi, reached at USL league meetings in New Jersey, said he had no knowledge of the club meeting with the MLS commissioner. Kerfoot, whose media shyness is legendary, couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday.

"I guess we should take those comments as compliments," said Lenarduzzi, who maintained the club's intention is to stay the course with the USL.

"Our initiatives haven't changed. We need to get approvals on the stadium and until we do it's very premature to be talking about anything else. We are involved with the city staff and the Port Authority. We're moving in the right direction, but it's been four years, we're looking for some urgency. The stadium is key to the growth of our club."

The 12-year-old MLS, which created a media frenzy this year when the Los Angeles Galaxy signed England star David Beckham to a five-year, $250-million US contract, is considered the top professional soccer league in North America.

Garber said on the weekend in Toronto, where he was attending the game between first-year Toronto FC and Beckham's Los Angeles Galaxy club, that MLS is looking to expand and mentioned Vancouver and Montreal as potential markets.

He said MLS will add a San Jose franchise next season to bring the league to 14 teams. There are plans to add two more teams by 2010 or possibly 2009, with expansion fees of $30 million US each. The two franchises are to be announced by the end of the year.

Vancouver Province


© CanWest News Service 2007

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