MLS Expansion: Montreal Still Alive?

The CONCACAF Champions League returns next week and in one of the more appetizing matchups, the Impact de Montreal of USL faces Mexico’s Santos Laguna. Montreal is one of three members of US based leagues to advance to the quarterfinal stage (the Houston Dynamo and the Puerto Rico Islanders are the others).

The Champions League may not have yet developed a following among some MLS fans  including those whose teams took the tournament to be a set of friendlies and were eliminated early, but in Montreal it is a very big deal. Radio Canada and MLS Rumors are reporting that 43,000 tickets have already been sold for Montreal’s home leg of the Quarterfinals, and arrangements are being made to add capacity to Olympic Stadium should the game sell out.

The match will be held at Olympic Stadium instead of Stade Saputo, the usual home ground of the Impact. The advance ticket sales must give pause to MLS officials whose demands placed on potential expansion bidders forced Montreal’s bid to be eliminated. The Saputo’s, the owners of the Impact along with George Gillett, co-owner of Liverpool, and partner in Montreal’s MLS bid, felt the $40 million price tag for a new MLS franchise (or in this case promoting a successful USL team to MLS) should include stadium upgrade costs. Stade Saputo, which is a new state of the art facility with a grass pitch seats under 15,000 fans and thus must be upgraded to be considered a permanent MLS home ground.

A source confirmed to me Monday, that Montreal’s ownership group has not ruled out an eventual move to MLS, but that the requirements to submit an expansion bid to the league must be changed. The big question will be this: after the Impact put on a show next week and draw the type of crowd current MLS clubs can only dream about for a CONCACAF match, will MLS and Montreal come to some agreement?  Could this also be the mysterious cause of the delay in revealing the expansion winner for 2011?

We will preview each of the quarterfinal cup ties involving MLS or USL sides next week.

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