Montreal Impact players with the USL First Division championship trophy after beating the Vancouver Whitecaps in October (AP)

(WFI) Montreal Impact are poised to become Major League Soccer’s 19th team. 

MLS commissioner Don Garber held meetings with the club’s president Joey Saputo, Quebec Minister of Finance Raymond Bachand and Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay to discuss the Impact joining the league.

“We are very happy with the visit of the MLS executives in Montreal,” Saputo said in a statement.

He said the meetings on Wednesday with Minister Bachand and Mayor Tremblay were “very positive”. “It’s clear for us, and now more than ever, that the arrival of MLS in Montreal is only a question of time. We are hoping to have news in the first quarter of 2010.”

In the upcoming 2010 season, the Philadelphia Union will debut as the newest MLS expansion club. The league will grow to 18 teams when Portland and Vancouver enter the League in 2011.

If Montreal joins MLS, it would be the third Canadian franchise in the league including Toronto FC and Vancouver.

The success of the Toronto franchise, launched in 2007, gives hope to MLS chiefs that football can draw an audience in Canada. Toronto often draws more than 20,000 fans to soccer-specific BMO Field, and has more than 16,000 season ticket-holders.

The Impact play in the 13,034-seat Saputo Stadium, which opened last year. The stadium was designed to be able to increase capacity to meet MLS standards. The club attracted average crowds of 12,000 this past season.

“We continued our discussions with the Saputo family about a future MLS expansion team in Montreal and had very productive meetings with Minister Bachand about securing funding for the expansion of Saputo Stadium,” Garber said in a statement.

“We’ve stated many times that Montreal would be a great market for MLS and we look forward to continuing our discussions.”

Last season, the Impact played in the Division II USL-1 League where it won its third league championship. The club plans to play in the newly formed North American Soccer League (NASL) in 2010.
North American leagues square off
The NASL and the United Soccer League (USL) are currently in
discussions with U.S. Soccer about 2010 plans, with USL-1 facing an uncertain future.

Representatives from both the USL-1 and the new NASL met with U.S. Soccer officials this week.

“We had a productive meeting and the discussions will continue,” said U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati. “In the interim we have asked both groups to submit additional information.”

U.S. Soccer CEO Dan Flynn heads the

Atlanta Silverbacks are one of the new members of the NASL (Silverbacks)

professional league task force which will examine the information supplied by both leagues. It will provide an update to the board of directors.

Tensions between the two leagues are high.

There is much at stake, including team eligibility for international competitions such as the Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the CONCACAF Champions League, Nutrilite Canadian Championship and the Caribbean Championship.

The NASL formed last month as a breakaway league from USL-1. The league is backed by the Team Owners Association (TOA), which includes former USL-1 owners.

USL is fighting NASL’s bid to be made official by U.S. Soccer. There was a setback for the USL last month, when the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Crystal Palace Baltimore announced they would be joining the new league.

“Both the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Crystal Palace Baltimore have contractual commitments to USL to play in the 2010 USL First Division (USL-1) season. USL will pursue all actions to protect its interests and those of the USL-1 teams from any breach of contract caused by Tampa and Baltimore,” the USL statement said.

“USL further believes TOA is tortuously interfering with USL-1 team owners that are contractually obligated to participate in the 2010 season.

“TOA has made several misleading statements in a variety of press releases to taint the reputation of USL and its long history of developing the sport of soccer in the United States and Canada. USL will vigorously defend its legal interests against the TOA’s tortuous interference in contractual relationships with its team owners.”

The new league is named after the original NASL that operated from 1968 to 1984.

The Atlanta Silverbacks, Carolina RailHawks, Crystal Palace Baltimore, Miami FC, Minnesota Thunder, Montreal Impact, St. Louis Soccer United, Tampa Bay Rowdies and Vancouver Whitecaps FC have signed up with the NASL.

Canadian Soccer appoints head coach
The Canadian Soccer Association approved a 2010 budget and named Stephen Hart permanent head coach of the national team during December’s board meetings.

While serving as interim coach in 2009, Hart led Canada to the CONCACAF Gold Cup final where it lost to Honduras 1-0. He will manage the men’s team in its quest to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and other competitions including the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup.

“Stephen Hart is the man in charge with the task to lead Canada to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil,” said Canadian Soccer Association president Dr. Dominic Maestracci.

CAS approved a new budget that will place more emphasis on youth development. There will be 10 national programs in 2010 including men’s and women’s U-20 and U-17 programs, and an Olympic development program.

Canadian Soccer also agreed in principle on a new framework of governance. The board will review this when it convenes in March.

Written by Sam Steinberg

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