Montreal to join Major League Soccer in 2012
The worst-kept secret in Major League Soccer finally became official on Friday.
With Montreal Impact owner Joe Saputo looking on, MLS commissioner Don Garber announced at a press conference that Montreal has been granted an expansion franchise and will join the league in 2012.
"It is truly moments like this that make sports so special. Today is another very historic day for Major League Soccer," said Garber, a day after news reports surfaced about the announcement.
The Saputo-owned Montreal franchise will become the 19th team in MLS, and the third Canadian outfit — Toronto FC began play in MLS in 2007, while the Vancouver Whitecaps are slated to enter the league next year.
The Impact currently compete in the USSF D2 Pro League (one level below MLS).
This "is also a very pivotal moment for the sport of soccer in Canada. In two short years we will have teams in three of the largest cities in the country, providing an exciting and very meaningful platform to grow the sport at all levels," Garber stated.
Details about an expansion fee were not released, but it's believed Saputo paid $40 million.
Friday's announcement was the final chapter in a long story.
"It's fair to say … that we've all waited a long time for Montreal to join Major League Soccer," Garber admitted.
Saputo agreed: "This is no longer a question of if, but rather a question of when. I'm pleased to say when is finally here, and it's about time."
Montreal was one of the front-runners to enter MLS in 2011 as one of two expansion franchises, but the team's bid put forth by Saputo and former Canadiens owner George Gillett did not meet league requirements.
Last August, Garber said the Saputo family must secure public funding to expand the capacity of their stadium before Montreal is granted an MLS team.
The Impact currently play their home matches at Saputo Stadium, a 13,034-seat venue that opened in 2008. Quebec finance minister Raymond Bachand announced the stadium will be expanded to 20,000 seats thanks to $23 million in funding.
"I am extremely proud of the acquisition of an MLS team," Saputo said. "This is what Montreal deserved: a great league within a great city."
The addition of a Montreal team will be a big boost for MLS, according to CBC Sports soccer commentator Jason de Vos, who used to play for the Impact.
The Impact "have continually been able to attract 10,000 fans or more for second division soccer, and one has to believe that they will be capable of much more when the move to MLS occurs," de Vos wrote in a recent blog published on CBCSports.ca.
MLS started with 10 teams in 1996 but has expanded several times in recent years, adding teams in Salt Lake City and San Jose, Calif.