Getting their balls in a row

CHRIS STEVENSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:05 AM ET

So much for our stadium battle being a "soccer vs. football" argument.

The Lansdowne Live group bidding to redevelop Frank Clair Stadium is willing to look at bringing a United Soccer Leagues franchise in to share the facility with a CFL club if it gets the nod from city council.

The 11-team USL-1 league competes regularly against clubs from Major League Soccer, which Senators owner Eugene Melnyk is attempting to bring to a proposed stadium in Kanata, at a fraction of the cost and with some success.

A USL-1 franchise costs about $750,000 U.S. compared to $40 million U.S. a franchise for the next round of MLS expansion.

The Montreal Impact of the USL beat out Toronto FC of the MLS and the Vancouver Whitecaps of the USL to win the Nutralite Canadian Championship and the right to represent Canada in the CONCACAF Champions League (the Impact lost to a Mexican team in the quarterfinals in Februrary, drawing 55,571 to Montreal's Olympic Stadium for one of the games).

"We have had an interest in pro soccer being part of Lansdowne Live since the beginning," said Ottawa 67's owner Jeff Hunt, who is fronting the Lansdowne Live bid, which has secured a conditional CFL franchise. "It sounds like the USL is on a par with the calibre of the MLS and if things don't work out in Kanata, it might be worth looking into.

"It certainly represents a way to test the waters of professional soccer in Ottawa at much less risk."

Hamilton Tiger-Cats owner Bob Young is an investor in the Carolina RailHawks of the USL and he said in a telephone interview with Sun Media yesterday he thinks a USL team in Ottawa, sharing a new facility at Lansdowne Park with a CFL team, "would be a slam dunk."

"We know this model works. We know it's entertaining soccer. I know Jeff Hunt would hit a home run with this," said Young. "Ottawa is the perfect place with its huge amateur soccer base."

Young -- who is definitely biased -- seemed to take considerable satisfaction in comparing the calibre of play in the USL and the MLS.

"You don't even need to do much research," he said. "I realize we're talking about just one season, but when you look at results from international matches, inter-league play ... the USL trounced them. It wasn't even debatable. The (MLS clubs) have a variety of excuses, they treated them like exhibition games, whereas the USL teams tried hard ... regardless, the excuses might explain why the USL was competitive, but not why (the MLS teams) were outplayed and outscored."

Looking at some soccer message boards, the debate is out there about the merits and strengths of both leagues with the conclusion being the top teams in the USL are certainly stronger than the bottom teams in the MLS. As near as can be figured, the MLS holds 11-9-4 edge head-to-head against USL teams in the past 25 games or so, though two USL teams advanced to the Champions League semifinals compared to one from the MLS.

The results would certainly indicate in head-to-head play, the USL-1 teams can certainly hold their own against the MLS.

The Ottawa Fury fields teams in the USL's Premier Development League (its lower level men's league) and the W-League (women's), among other divisions. If one of the goals is helping develop soccer in the national capital region, an added attraction would certainly be seeing graduates of the PDL Fury being able to stay here in Ottawa to play at the USL's top level.

There were 12 Canadians on the Impact's roster posted on its website yesterday.

The cost of a USL-1 franchise compared to an MLS franchise doesn't seem justified given the quality of play in both leagues. The USL looks like it might be a more prudent option, especially in a market like this one where the appetite for professional soccer is a question mark.

Just something else to add to the debate.


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