MLS won't promise team for Ottawa

SHANE ROSS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:56 AM ET

Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber says Ottawa remains a "very, very, very viable candidate," but stopped short of guaranteeing a MLS franchise to Eugene Melnyk's group if it secures a stadium deal with the city.

"We have never made a contingent commitment to a city, nor has any other league, the NHL or any other of the major sports leagues," Garber said yesterday.

However, the CFL has granted a conditional franchise to the Lansdowne Live group, which has a competing proposal for an outdoor stadum project before city council to renovate Frank Clair Stadium.

"In the absence of a definitive franchise, it makes it awkward for the city," said Jeff Hunt, one of the proponents behind the Lansdowne Live proposal. "What would they do, award a 'conditional' building and hope for an MLS franchise at some undetermined point down the road, if ever?"

Garber believes the CFL granted Ottawa a conditional franchise because no other cities were bidding.

"If there were other cities bidding, they might not have been able to do that because it would just turn the whole process upside down," he said.

Vancouver and Portland were granted MLS franchises last week for the 2011 season. Vancouver, which is selling season tickets at a record MLS pace, was considered a shoo-in. Portland was bolstered by a multi-million plan approved by its city council to upgrade PGE Park for the MLS team and build a new stadium for its Triple-A baseball team.

The Portland bid, unlike Melnyk's Kanata stadium proposal, also guaranteed no financial risk to the City of Portland.

Even if Ottawa council had decided last month to choose Melnyk's proposal to build a stadium in Kanata, it may not have been enough to win an 2011 expansion team, Garber said.

"They would have been a very, very compelling candidate, and they remain ... a compelling candidate, but I can't look backward on that."

Garber expects further expansion in 2012.

"We believe Ottawa would be a great market, we believe (the Melnyk group's) site represents an opportunity for Ottawa to have a facility that would provide value for the citizens of Ottawa without taking valuable land downtown that is relatively constrained."

City council is scheduled to make a decision on the competing stadium and league proposals on April 22.


Videos

Photos