Soccer

MLS commissioner says Ottawa may have to wait for franchise

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The Canadian Press
3/18/2009 9:15:43 PM
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VANCOUVER - Major League Soccer may wait until the next round of expansion before it awards Ottawa a franchise, MLS commissioner Don Garber said Wednesday.

Vancouver was awarded the league's 17th franchise on Wednesday. Ottawa, St. Louis and Portland are vying to become the league's 18th team.

But Garber said Ottawa city council hasn't decided yet if it will spend money on a soccer facility or a stadium for a new Canadian Football League team.

"We don't yet have a positive vote in Ottawa so it's less likely Ottawa would be that 18th team," Garber told reporters. "It doesn't mean they can't be either the 19th or the 20th."

Eugene Melnyk, who owns the NHL's Ottawa Senators, is behind the bid to bring MLS to the nation's capital.

He is in talks with government officials to secure the land and partial funding to build a $110-million, 20,000-seat soccer stadium near the Senators arena in the western Ottawa region of Kanata.

Complicating his bid is a group led by Jeff Hunt, owner of the Ontario Hockey League's Ottawa 67's, who have been granted a conditional CFL franchise. That group is  also looking for the city's approval to redevelop Lansdowne Park in its downtown area.

Ottawa city council has said it will approve money for either a soccer facility, a football stadium, or neither.

Garber said MLS plans to announce the 18th franchise soon.

"In order for us to even consider Ottawa they have to get behind Major League Soccer," he said. "We are very hopeful they will be able to reach a positive vote.

"If they do, then I think we've taken a positive step in that city."

Melnyk released a statement congratulating Vancouver on being awarded a MLS team. He also said he will continue his efforts to bring a franchise to Ottawa.

"Ottawa is a world-class city that deserves a world-class stadium," the statement said. "I want to help our community make this dream a reality.

"I am looking forward to the day when I can stand on the soccer pitch in our city's new, world-class stadium and be joined by more than 20,000 passionate fans to officially welcome Major League Soccer to Ottawa."

Vancouver will begin MLS play in 2011.

Current Whitecaps owner Greg Kerfoot heads a power-packed group that paid US$35 million for the franchise. Joining Kerfoot on the ownership team is NBA star Steve Nash, San Francisco Giants co-owner Jeff Mallett and Boston Celtics co-owner Steve Luczo.

Major League Soccer (Photo: MLS)

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