Eugene Melnyk reached in deep and pulled out plans for a 30,000 seat arena, which, if built, would become the crown jewel of Canadian soccer stadiums (and a leading contender for the final of the 2015 Women’s World Cup, but that’s a different topic).
The stadium plan is impressive, although it would be better placed at Lansdowne Park. If the TFC experience has taught us anything it’s that MLS needs downtown stadiums (besides one of my favourite Thai restaurants in the country is across the street). As previously stated, a solid bid can make up for perceived shortcomings. Actually, an argument can be made that Ottawa has now put itself as the frontrunner among the Canadian cities. It has a solid stadium plan and the type of rich investor that MLS loves.
Cities have to Oct 15 to submit bids. Commissioner Don Garber has indicated that the league will cap at 20 teams, but few take him at his word. Considering that 10 of 13 teams lost money in 2007, most MLS owners would be hard pressed to ignore a few $40 million cheques. Think 24 teams, perhaps divided into two leagues with some type of promotion/relegation system.
So far five have submitted bids, three in Canada. They, in addition to Ottawa, are Portland, St. Louis, Montreal and Vancouver. Two more are expected. Backed by European power Barcelona, it’s expected that the city of Miami will try for a place and the New York Mets ownership group is looking to be part of a second New York bid (possibly to be branded the Cosmos).
St. Louis has long been rumoured to be next in line for a team. However, the city has never quite pulled it together. Although it calls itself Soccer City USA (who knew?), it has never been able to attract the type of investors that MLS is looking for.
Portland has a wonderful history in the USL and a passionate fanbase. They are the sentimental choice among many American fans. They also are in a small market, play in an old AAA baseball park and are located very close to two markets that have a far greater international reputation and image.
Vancouver has the history and would make a great playmate for Seattle. They also seem to have a strong fanbase and interested investors. What they don’t have is a stadium—the plan currently is to play out of BC Place until Vancouver politicians
Montreal has a (too small) stadium and an investor, but said investor only kinda, sorta seems interested in MLS (and only on his terms).
On the surface affiliation with a club like Barcelona seems like a great thing, but some argue that it would just make the league look even more minor league than many already think it is. MLS also contracted a team from Miami less than a decade ago.
And New York barely supports one team (but that market is awfully appealing).
So, there is no real slam-dunk. Ottawa’s biggest drawback (other than the nagging doubt that anyone in the city will actually care) is its market size and that whole it's-in-Canada thing. TFC's success has made the Canada factor somewhat irrelevant. And, I suspect that MLS will view Ottawa as part of an overall Canadian market, rather than something specific to its metro area.
Much speculation has been made that MLS will look to bring in one western team and one eastern team in the next round of expansion. Based on some recent comments made by Garber where he has ranted and raved about the Toronto gameday experience (he was particularly glowing about the atmosphere at July’s Impact/TFC game), I would suggest that you adjust your geography a bit when considering expansion. Perhaps the divide will be more along a north-south axis.
If Ottawa is competing against Montreal and Vancouver for a single Canadian spot in the next expansion then suddenly things look a little different (and it makes more sense that Melnyk is pushing ahead so aggressively). In that case it would still be Montreal’s to lose, but the Saputo’s had better firm up those stadium expansion plans awfully quick.
Vancouver’s time will come in the expansion to 19 and 20 teams.
Ottawa and St. Louis in 2011. It’s not as crazy as it seems.
Update: Here's a fairly germane nugget from The Globe & Mail:
There were no municipal representatives — or anyone from the provincial or federal governments — at the news conference and (Senators COO Cyril) Leeder conceded that only preliminary contact has been made and no assurances have been provided.