Western Canada on MLS horizon?

DEREK VAN DIEST, EDMONTON SUN

, Last Updated: 9:10 AM ET

The ripple effect was felt throughout the world.

But could David Beckham's signing in Los Angeles lead to a rebirth of big league soccer in Canada - including Edmonton?

"If you look back at the days of North American Soccer League, I can recall playing in front of 20,000 people in Commonwealth Stadium," said Bob Lenarduzzi, director of soccer operations for the Vancouver Whitecaps and former head coach of the Canadian national team.

"In Toronto, in the last year of the league, we played one of the last league games there, and there were 16,000-17,000 people in Varsity Stadium. The Montreal Impact attracted crowds of 50,000. We (Vancouver) were averaging 28,000 people a game in 1980.

"Certainly a (Major League Soccer) team in Alberta is not beyond the realm of thinking, that's for sure."

Coincidentally, Beckham is joining the MLS the same season the first Canadian franchise, Toronto FC, is entering the league.

Lenarduzzi and the Whitecaps seem set to follow.

From there the door could open to cities such as Montreal, Edmonton and Calgary.

"The fact that there is an MLS team in Toronto means he will be visiting Canada," Lenarduzzi said. "I think, in general, it's good for the game in Canada. I think it's going to benefit the game just by the exposure that the Beckham signing has generated. There's going to be a build-up to when he arrives in July and his first game will generate a huge stir."

The Beckham move to Los Angeles parallels Pele's move to New York in the '70's.

Interest in the NASL exploded with Pele's arrival which eventually led to franchises being set up in Canada, including Edmonton and Vancouver. The league went through a short boom period, and then eventually disbanded.

"This is a totally different scenario," Lenarduzzi said.

"When Pele arrived, it was random. It was a move to give the game the quick fix that it needed at that time.

"The problem was there was no real foundation that was established. Unfortunately, it was lightning in a bottle and there was no (long-term) plan.

"I look at the fact that MLS has been around for 11 years now and they have established a pretty good base of clubs right now."

It's a group Lenarduzzi eventually hopes to join.

The Whitecaps are current USL champions (a step below MLS) and are in the process of building their own 15,000-seat soccer facility in downtown Vancouver.

"Our first commitment is to the USL, in particular because we have some solid ownership and a real core that want to take the game to the next level," Lenarduzzi said.

"Having said that, we want to be playing in the best league in North America within five to 10 years."


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