Ottawa MLS bid alive and kicking

CHRIS STEVENSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:30 AM ET

The battle for two MLS expansion franchises has officially kicked off with Ottawa up against six other bids, at least one fewer than anticipated.

Senators owner Eugene Melnyk submitted a bid on Ottawa's behalf yesterday, joining Atlanta, Miami, Montreal, Portland (Ore.), St. Louis and Vancouver bidding for two expansion franchises for the 2011 season.

The plan now is for the league's expansion committee to meet with the prospective ownership groups from each city. A final recommendation to the board of governors and the awarding of the expansion franchises will be made late this year or early in the new year.

MLS president Mark Abbott said the league will evaluate the bids on three criteria: The strength of the ownership group, the plan for a stadium and market attributes ("size of market, support for soccer, what's the corporate community in the market saying about soccer.").

Melnyk unveiled plans for a $100-million soccer-specific stadium last month and is ready to ante up the $40 million expansion fee.

"I know we have a strong operational management team and a solid business plan, and now we know the community is behind us," said Melnyk, who has been recruiting the support of Ottawa's soccer community and hopes strong grassroots support will offset the strong soccer traditions in some of the other bidding markets.

The success of Toronto FC, which joined the league a couple of years ago, is a positive for the Canadian bidders, said Abbott.

"I think it is. Through the success that we've seen in Toronto, there's a lot of excitement throughout Canada and you can see other Canadian markets have filed an application as a result of that ... there's a large and vibrant market up in Canada and we've seen that through Toronto," said Abbott. "We've seen that through the support of some of the USL teams up there. We're excited about those possibilities."

Both Montreal and Vancouver have strong ownership groups which already operate USL teams. The Vancouver Whitecaps, who just won the USL title, are backed by Whitecaps owner Greg Kerfoot and NBA star Steve Nash. The Montreal bid is a partnership between the Saputo family, which owns the Impact, and George Gillett, the owner of the Montreal Canadiens and co-owner of Liverpool FC.

Ottawa is the smallest market bidding for a team, though Abbott said that won't necessarily be a detriment to Ottawa's bid.

"I think we've seen throughout the history of the league there's a mix of large and small markets. That's one of the issues we'll take a look at as we evaluate all the different applications," said Abbott.


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