MLS: "North America's Division 1 Professional Soccer League"?

For the last week or so MLS expansion talk has centered on the out-of-the-blue, breathless announcement that Canadian Joey Saputo, who is referred to as the "owner" of the Montreal Impact (something he most assuredly is not), has entered into a partnership arrangement with Montreal Canadiens owner - and Liverpool co-owner - George Gillett in a "bid" to bring an MLS team to Saputo's as-yet-unopened stadium.

Saputo responded to the story, which first broke in Montreal La Presse, by telling reporters that he had indeed "contacted" MLS, that he wanted to begin play "in 2009" and that he and Gillett would "split the $30 million" entry fee.

(Canadian commenters, both on BigSoccer and elsewhere, were gleeful about this addition to what they now universally refer to as "MLS, North America's Professional Soccer League", a construct which conveniently ignores the fact that FIFA does not award league charters to continents but rather to nations, and MLS is the Division 1 Professional soccer league in the United States of America.)

One has to wonder though just how much "contact" Saputo has had with MLS recently, because a good deal of what he said simply doesn't match up well with reality.

For example:

In mid-February, just before the Philadelphia announcement, MLS said that much as they might wish it otherwise the deadline had passed for any new teams to enter the league for 2009. Yet Saputo says they're talking to MLS about doing just that.

At around the same time, in an attempt to light a fire under the Philadelphia and St. Louis bids, MLS announced that whichever one of those teams entered the league first would be the last outfit to get in for $30 million. Thereafter, any new team will have to write the check for $40 million. Yet Saputo is still chatting about how he and Gillett will "split the $30 million fee"

Kind of makes you wonder just how much "contact" Saputo is having with the headquarters of MLS, the Division 1 Professional Soccer League in the US.

Further, there's the question of the stadium (which, by the way, is not named after the Saputo family cheese company but after Joey Saputo himself): When they broke ground, Saputo said the place was "expandable to 17,000 seats" from it's current 13,000. This winter, he started saying that it had been designed to expand to "18,000 seats".

(Even the stadium's OFFICIAL WEBSITE says the place is "expandable to 17,000 seats".)

Now, in his public comments, he keeps saying that the place is "expandable to 20,000 seats". If this keeps up, it'll be bigger than the Rose Bowl.

But there's a problem: the place is nothing but three sets of bleachers. The "expansion plan" has always consisted of adding one more matching set of bleachers in what is now the open end of the stadium. So how does this set of bleachers keep expanding? No one is sure.

In any case, as I pointed out before (and got a lot of noise from our Francophone brothers) the place is barely up to US High School standards. Now you guys can fill up the "comments" section with a bunch of silly nonsense about me being a "stadium elitist" and so forth again if you want, but the bottom line is still the same:

Crew Stadium, built on a shoestring (on an incredibly tight 8 month schedule) as essentially a test project and widely considered to be a bare-bones, minimalist structure, cost Lamar Hunt $27 million in 1998 dollars. Saputo Stadium cost under $15 million in 2008 Canadian dollars.

Tossing up another set of bleachers - be they 5,000, 6,000 or 8,000 (!!!) seats tall, isn't going to make it any more than what it is: a pretty nice minor league soccer building with only one men's room.

Finally, there's the issue of the caliber of the prospective "ownership". When Joe Bonnano, the Boss of Bosses of the New York mafia, was getting ready to flee the US, Joey Saputo's father was his immigration sponsor. A few months later, after the Godfather found himself in a cell in Ossining, Saputo announced that he had no idea who Bonanno was.

Be that as it may, the Saputos make a perfect match with George Gillett, who is currently receiving death threats from Liverpool fans. Gillett's PR people are working overtime to foist all of the blame for anything and everything off on Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks, but most fans aren't convinced.

Even if they had a decent place to play, and even if Saputo wasn't so obviously clueless about what's going on with MLS, are these really the guys Anschutz and Hunt and Kraft and Checketts and the rest want to get in bed with?

And frankly, today's comments from Saputo where he claims that the Montreal Impact - as currently constituted - would win the MLS Championship falls beyond the realm of puffery and into the Land of Delusion.

The league has just formed an expansion committee, headed by Uncle Phil himself, whose ostensible mission is to create a "strategic plan" for future expansion. It's a great idea, and long overdue, but more importantly it will prevent anyone with a building and a check from demanding entre into "North America's Division 1 Professional Soccer League".

And not a moment too soon.

*Edited after getting a well-deserved slap upside the head.

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