Saturday, July 26, 2008

Vancouver and the MLS: Multiple Lawsuits Soon?

Now that Vancouver soccer fans (oops, "supporters") are all tingly about Canadian NBA god Steve Nash's involvement in the Whitecaps' bid for a Major League Soccer franchise comes news that Canucks' owner Francesco Aquilini may submit a competing bid.

Never mind the fact that the Whitecaps currently don't even play in Vancouver and at best draw 5,000 to bland Swanguard Stadium in Burnaby, now the USL (Useless Soccer League) team known as the Whitecaps FC (FC = we want to openly ape all things "British" even though we are in North America and play in a "soccer" league) has competition in their attempt to join the big league of soccer here in North America known as the MLS (does Major League Soccer have to pay a fee to the real estate venture, Multiple Listings Service, it shares its acronym with?) .

The Burnaby mayor Derek "Hizzoner Bling Daddy" Corrigan obviously sees the Whitecaps as a decent revenue stream for the city and wants to keep them in Burn-A-Bee. Then again this "Vancouver" team really never embraced the whole "Burnaby" concept despite also having two team training grounds in the city given the Whitecaps' head office remained in Vancouver's Gastown throughout.

Aquilini sees the success of the MLS's Toronto FC and also sees dollar signs, too. He has suggested he'd expand Swanguard to a capacity of 20,000 to accommodate an MLS team. Given Caps' now co-owner Greg Kerfoot's troubles in getting a downtown Vancouver waterfront soccer stadium built, this is now definitely going to get interesting, if the stadium becomes THE issue.

The Whitecaps are set to move into BC Place Stadium in 2011 once the retractable roof is put in. Obviously, a 60,000-seat capacity stadium is way too large for any MLS franchise today but the Caps, like the Canadian Football League's B.C. Lions who currently use the facility, will "hide" seats in the upper deck behind a magic curtain to create a more intimate (and sexy?) soccer atmosphere.

It's curtains for the upper deck

Now it may not be ideal but it sure beats Swanguard, especially for location. Yes, the upper deck will be empty and much of the lower bowl, too, on most nights even with MLS soccer being an upgrade. Yet, you have to wonder if soccer fans (the hardcore 3,000 to 5,000 that have hung on after the glory days of the NASL and the original Vancouver Whitecaps) aren't in for a harrowing few years. Also, part of getting an MLS expansion team absolutely depends on building a soccer-specific stadium, as clearly stated in the past by MLS commissioner Don Garber, so BC Place can only be seen as a temporary home.

Remember, Vancouver may have the NASL history, the current strong ownership group and a the grassroots' support but this city is no lock for an expansion franchise given the MLS rocky expansion plans just four years ago where Cleveland seemed set to join the MLS with Chivas USA (the LA-based Hispanic/Mexican franchise). Cleveland is still on the outside and is not even being considered for this round of expansion.

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