MLS adds Montreal, wants 2nd NY club

NEW YORK -- Montreal will join Major League Soccer as its 19th team in 2012, and commissioner Don Garber hopes to add a second New York club as early as 2013.

Montreal was announced at a news conference Friday and will be owned by the Saputo family, which runs the Montreal Impact of the U.S. Soccer Federation D-2 Pro League. It will play primarily in Saputo Stadium, which opened two years ago and is to undergo about $22 million in renovations. Its capacity will increase from 13,000 to 20,000.

Some games will be in Olympic Stadium, the home of the Montreal Expos from 1977-04. Olympic Stadium, which holds more than 50,000, will host an exhibition between the Impact and AC Milan on June 2.

"It opens up a whole new market in French-speaking Canada, which is important as we position ourselves as a global sports league," Garber told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "There is a whole secondary market here in Canada, particularly in Quebec, represented by the French-speaking population. That gives us business and corporate opportunities. It gives us media opportunities, because there's French language radio and television both here and nationally."

MLS currently has 16 teams. Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, British Columbia, were announced in March 2009 as expansion teams for 2011. Toronto FC started play in 2007.

Montreal will pay a $40 million expansion fee, up from $35 million each for Portland and Vancouver. Impact chairman Joey Saputo hopes the team will be able to keep its name, logo and blue color in MLS. He also would like to retain some of the team's young players.

"I think the rivalry between Montreal and Toronto will be absolutely fantastic," he said. "We see it in all the other sports, whether it be hockey or football. And even from a business standpoint, there's always this rivalry between Montreal and Toronto."

Canada has not qualified for the World Cup since 1986, just after the demise of the North American Soccer League, which had teams in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton. Saputo hopes the spread of MLS to Canada will boost the nation's soccer fortunes.

"If we could help the Canadian national team achieve the opportunity to play at the World Cup stage, it's part of who we are, it's part of what we plan to do," he said.

Now Garber will turn his attention to New York. Across the Hudson River, the Red Bulls moved into a $200 million stadium this year in Harrison, N.J.

"Our attention is very focused on a 20th team as we speak. We'd like that team to be in New York City representing a second team in the Tri-State area," Garber said. "The Red Bulls are very supportive of that and believe that rivalry will help grow the popularity of the sport in the New York metropolitan area. So we're going to work hard and try to get something done perhaps as early as 2013."

Garber has held talks with the Wilpons, who own the New York Mets. Those talks may resume.

"Our discussions, which were fairly active with the Mets, clearly got put aside with the energy that they were putting into the launch of Citi Field," Garber said. "We haven't had discussions with the Wilpons in over a year and we'll hopefully reopen those discussions.

"But there are certainly many, many other potential ownership opportunities in that market. With the economy turning around, we hope to be able to start some discussions with potential other investors."

The Mets are willing to consider buying a MLS expansion team. The biggest issue is where to put a stadium.

"We've had good dialogue previously with commissioner Garber and look forward to continuing that in the future," the team said in a statement.

As the league grows, MLS would like to study opportunities for a second division. That eventually could lead to a relegation system similar to those in European leagues, where the bottom teams would get sent to the lower league and have their places taken by promoted clubs.

"We clearly need to as a sport overall in this country address the challenges that exists in the second division today. Right now the federation is running the league, which is not an optimal situation for anyone," Garber said.

As of now, there isn't a lower division acceptable to MLS owners.

"I don't think that situation gets resolved soon," Garber said, "though I do believe that it's important that it get resolved in the near future."