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Vancouver Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi was all smiles at Wednesday's media conference announcing Vancouver has been awarded an MLS expansion team for 2011. ((Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press))

Vancouver became the newest home of Major League Soccer on Wednesday as the league awarded the city an expansion franchise to begin play in 2011.

"Our goal is to become one of the world's best soccer leagues," said MLS commissioner Don Garber. "The addition of Vancouver will help us get to that point."

Home games will be played at BC Place Stadium, which is being fitted with a retractable roof as part of an ongoing $365-million renovation. The venue will seat 20,000 for soccer games.

Still unconfirmed is the name of the new team. The Vancouver Whitecaps FC currently play in the less-prestigious United Soccer League's First Division, and it has been reported that the MLS team will take on the same name.

The Whitecaps said in a statement announcing the MLS expansion team that they will field a USL side for the 2009 and 2010 seasons.

"The city of Vancouver and the Whitecaps have a rich and storied soccer history, which includes long-standing rivalries with Toronto and Seattle," said Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi. "The successful bid for a Major League Soccer franchise offers a whole new level of opportunity for our organization, and by extension, for our city and our province."

The Vancouver club will become the 17th in MLS and the second based in Canada. Toronto FC joined the league in 2007, and has consistently played to sell-out crowds while boasting a season-ticket waiting list numbering in the thousands.

Financial heavyweights back team

MLS, which opened for business in 1996 as an eight-team operation, will expand to 16 clubs with the addition of a team in Seattle this season and one in Philadelphia in 2010.

Those teams paid an expansion fee of $30 million US. MLS was reportedly seeking $40 million for each of the two clubs it plans to add for 2011.

Ottawa, Portland, Ore., and St. Louis, Mo., are in the running for the second expansion franchise, with MLS hoping to announce the successful applicant by March 31.

Ottawa's bid is backed by Eugene Melnyk, billionaire owner of the NHL's Senators, but city council is having trouble deciding on competing stadium proposals.

Whitecaps owner Greg Kerfoot heads the ownership group for Vancouver's MLS team, which also includes:

  • NBA star Steve Nash, whose younger brother, Martin, currently plays for the team.
  • Jeff Mallett, an owner of the San Francisco Giants baseball team.
  • Steve Luczo, a part-owner of the NBA's Boston Celtics.

The deep-pocketed group appeared to have an edge in the expansion process in that it was the only one with both solid financial backing and a completed stadium plan.

The 2009 MLS season begins Thursday when the Seattle Sounders host their inaugural game against the New York Red Bulls.

The Sounders have sold some 22,000 season tickets for their games at Qwest Field, home of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks.