Montreal drops out of MLS expansion race
LOS ANGELES -- Montreal withdrew its bid for a MLS expansion team, commissioner Don Garber said Friday in his state-of-the-league address.
"They're out for the next round of expansion," Garber said. "I don't think it's gone forever but it's gone for now."
Other cities bidding for expansion teams are Atlanta, Miami, St. Louis, Vancouver, Ottawa and Portland, Ore. Representatives from Miami, Portland, Vancouver and Ottawa met with member of the MLS board this week, Garber said.
Seattle will join the league next year, followed by Philadelphia in 2010.
Garber said that Montreal's delegation -- led by Joey Saputo and George Gillett, who owns Liverpool FC in England's Premier League and the NHL's Montreal Canadiens -- had informed him within the past week of possible trouble.
"Montreal has had to evaluate what kinds of private capital they needed to refinance their stadium to fund the expansion fee, and what kind of public support would be available," Garber said. "I'm not sure they were able to come to terms in this economic environment."
Among the presentations made during the week, "Ottawa blew us away," Garber said. "They do give a very focused plan as to where they'd build the stadium. Their presentation was not just about how they were going to build the stadium but how they were going to build the sport."
Garber called Vancouver's presentation "one of the best I've ever seen, and I was involved in sports expansion in [the NFL]," he said.
But the commissioner added that expanding into Canada might jeopardize the growth of the sport in the United States.
"We don't have a lot of commercial businesses in Canada today," Garber said of league sponsorships. "The more teams we add there, the more it takes away out from growing our footprint and our television ratings in the United States."
The commissioner also said he was intrigued by the bids from Portland and Miami, which is being led by FC Barcelona. The Miami Fusion played in MLS from 1998 to 2001 before disbanding.
"If we go back to Miami, we'd better be sure we get it right," Garber said. "Barcelona could make investments in lots of different countries. But they believe in this country and in developing the sport here."
Garber said the possibility of having a potential rivalry between Portland, Seattle and Vancouver was intriguing.
"We believe in this conference-rivalry concept," he said.
In other news, Garber said that the reserve division would be eliminated and each team would be able to carry 18, 19 or 20 senior players on its roster. Teams could have many as four developmental players. No new quota on international players was announced.
Elsewhere, each team will play a 30-game schedule in 2009. Each team will play every other team in a home-and-away format, with two extra games against close conference rivals. For the playoffs, the top two teams from each conference will qualify automatically, followed by four teams with the best records regardless of conference.