MLSEL eyes MLS

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:21 AM ET

Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. has until Halloween to finalize a soccer stadium deal at Exhibition Place or its dream of a Major league Soccer franchise will turn into a pumpkin.

According to MLS commissioner Don Garber, his league and MLSEL officials have reached a tentative deal for Toronto to get an expansion franchise in 2007, contingent upon firm plans for a 20,000-plus seat stadium to be in place by Oct. 31.

MLSEL and MLS have been in discussions for about a year and several deadlines already have passed. Garber said yesterday on a conference call with reporters that for a franchise to be ready for startup in 2007, the stadium deal at Exhibition Place has to happen soon.

"We can't push it any further," Garber said. "If it isn't in place in the next 2 1/2 weeks, we'd be forced to look someplace else."

Previously published reports have put the price of the stadium at $62 million with MLSEL contributing perhaps 20% of the cost. Since the Canadian Soccer Association doesn't have that kind of money to throw around, it appears that the bulk of the funds will come from the public coffers, both municipal and federal.

Everybody seems to be in agreement that a 20,000-seat soccer stadium would be a wonderful thing for the CSA, for the World Youth Championship in 2007 and for pro soccer but nobody seems to want to pay for it.

There is widespread agreement that Canada's national team would benefit greatly from a domestic high-end pro team. The MLS would amend its roster rules to allow the Toronto team to be stocked mostly with Canadian players.

"There's no question that (the MLS) is driving the ascension of the United States as a soccer power," Garber said.

Fifteen years ago, the U.S. hardly was on the international radar screen. Now it is ranked seventh in the world. Canada is ranked 87th.

In the last round of expansion, the franchise fee was $10 million US. This time around, Garber said the fee would be slightly more.


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