By John F. Molinaro, CBC Sports
Less than two weeks ago, the Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact were fighting it out for bragging rights in the United Soccer Leagues First Divisions championship game.
Today, the future of both clubs is unclear.
Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi told CBCSports.ca Wednesday evening that his club «is in limbo» with regards to its participation in the USL in 2010 after negotiations ended between the team and the league’s new owners.
Lenarduzzi originally confirmed to CBCSports.ca Wednesday afternoon that both the Whitecaps and the Impact would not compete in the USL next year. The Whitecaps president clarified his comments in a second conversation with CBCSports.ca Wednesday evening, saying that the «door hasn’t been shut» on Vancouver possibly returning to the USL next year but that it is actively pursuing other options, including forming its own league with other USL teams.
Impact president Joey Saputo issued a press release after CBCSports.ca’s original story was published, stating that there are still ongoing talks between his club and the USL.
«The negotiations are not over. We continue to work on various options, including the possibility of seeing the Impact in the USL in 2010,» Saputo said.
Lenarduzzi said that the Team Owners Association (TOA), a group of USL franchises that includes the Whitecaps and the Impact, would actively try to start up a breakaway league. The TOA would first need permission from the United States Soccer Federation, soccer’s governing body in the U.S., before it could form its own league.
«We’re still pursuing the new league alternative, and by the end of the week, we should have our application into the USSF for them to grant us that status,» said Lenarduzzi, who was a member of the Canadian national team the competed at the 1986 World Cup.
The other USL clubs in the TOA are the Atlanta Silverbacks, Carolina RailHawks, Miami FC, Minnesota Thunder, St. Louis Soccer United and Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Lenarduzzi declined to elaborate on what the key issues were in the negotiations with the league owners, merely saying that there wasn’t «enough common ground» in the long-standing talks about restructuring the USL between the two sides.
«Our belief is that in order for soccer to grow in Canada and the United States, you need viable, professional leagues,» Lenarduzzi stated. «The reason we’re going the route we’re going is because we think that with like-minded owners, we can achieve that, and that would be good for the sport in general.»
Vancouver and Montreal are two of the most successful teams in the USL, which is one level below Major League Soccer, the top pro soccer league in the U.S. and Canada.
The two clubs met for the USL championship earlier this month, with the Impact winning the two-game, total-goals series 6-3 on aggregate. It was the league’s first all-Canadian final, and the third league title for the Impact, who also won the crown in 1994 and 2004.
Any new league would be a temporary home for the Whitecaps, who are scheduled to join MLS in 2011. The future of the Impact isn’t quite so clear if they don’t end up returning to the USL.
Part of the confusion surrounding the future of the two clubs began earlier in the day when Alec Papadakis, one of the new owners of the USL, told Montreal radio station CKAC that the Whitecaps and Impact would not play in the league next year.
However, the USL issued a clarifying statement later in the day, stating that while negotiations between the league and the TOA had broken off, the door was still open for the Whitecaps and Impact to return in 2010.
Lenarduzzi stressed to CBCSports.ca that regardless of what happens with the USL, the Whitecaps won’t be taking next year off.
“One way or another we’ll be playing soccer in a league next season,” he said.