Whitecaps moving up to MLS in 2011

Major League Soccer is coming to Vancouver in 2011. The city was awarded the second Canadian MLS franchise at a news conference Wednesday.

Vancouver Whitecaps President Bob Lenarduzzi speaks during a news conference where it was announced the team was awarded a Major League Soccer franchise in Vancouver

VANCOUVER — Major League Soccer is coming to Vancouver in 2011.

The city was awarded the second Canadian MLS franchise at a news conference Wednesday. The team will be able to build on the solid foundation laid by the Vancouver Whitecaps, said club president Bob Lenarduzzi.

“I thought I had seen the best soccer here in the late 70s and early 1980s,” said Lenarduzzi, who played on the Whitecaps team that won the North American Soccer League championships in 1979. “I honestly didn’t think that there would be an opportunity to recapture what we had back then.

“But it is my firm belief now, that when I see what is taking place with MLS, the best is definitely yet to come.”

Don Garber, the MLS commissioner, praised the city and the team’s ownership group, which includes NBA star Steve Nash.

“It’s a very passionate soccer market and an ownership group that gets the game,” said Garber.

“Our goal is to become one of the world’s best soccer leagues. The addition of Vancouver will help us get to that point.”

Current Whitecaps owner Greg Kerfoot is heading the Vancouver ownership group. Joining Nash are San Francisco Giants co-owner Jeff Mallett and Boston Celtics co-owner Steve Luczo.

The group paid US$35 million for the franchise. The other Canadian MLS franchise is Toronto FC, who joined the league in 2007.

The Vancouver Whitecaps are the defending champions of the United Soccer League’s first division. The team will continue to play in that league during the 2009 and 2010 seasons.

Lenarduzzi couldn’t guarantee the team will keep the Whitecaps name once it joins MLS.

“There is a lot of things we need to make decisions on,” he said. “The Whitecaps name has a lot of equity. There may be people out there that think it may need to be something other than that.”

Vancouver was one of four remaining groups hoping to be awarded one of two MLS franchises for the 2011 season. Ottawa, Portland and St. Louis also applied. The MLS is expected to award the second franchise at a later date.

The Vancouver MLS team will play at BC Place. The stadium will undergo approximately $365 million in improvements, including a retractable roof, before the club takes to the field after the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. It will have a 20,000-seat soccer-specific configuration.

Lenarduzzi thinks it will be possible to sell 16,500 season tickets.

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