MLS Expansion in 2011 Fuels the Fire of Rivalries

Ian MaillouxContributor IMarch 24, 2009

The wild ride that was the 2011 expansion race in Major League Soccer has finally come to an end, with probably the best possible result.

Vancouver was announced as the recipient of the 17th team and the second in Canada. The Whitecaps, currently playing in USL's first division, will play their games in a renovated BC Place.

Two days later, Portland was announced as the 18th team, adding yet another team to the Pacific Northwest. They will reside in a renovated PGE Park.

The road was long and there was much interest from several cities, but the league has come to a great decision regarding the next round of expansion.

Recently, the expansion strategy seemed to be to just bring the league into new markets, as seen with Toronto and Seattle. Both teams brought with them great enthusiasm and fan support.

But by selecting Vancouver and Portland as the 2011 expansion clubs, the strategy appears to be evolving.

Instead of new markets, the league seems interested in developing rivalries.

Since 2004, the USL-1 clubs in Portland, Seattle and Vancouver have competed for the Cascadia Cup, a fan-based competition to highlight and contribute to the strong rivalry between the three cities and their respective soccer teams.

Adding the two teams in the Pacific Northwest not only continues the rivalry but encourages it, which gives a hint to the next round of expansion in 2012.

Among the pack of 2011 bidders were New York City and Montreal, now two frontrunners for 2012.

They're frontrunners for the exact same reason why Vancouver and Portland will get shiny new MLS teams in 2011: rivalries.

A second team in New York (and the first one actually based in the state) to compete with the Red Bulls would no doubt be a huge draw for the league. The fact that the bid is backed by Fred Wilpon, owner of the New York Mets, only solidifies New York as a frontrunner in 2012.

The only reason Montreal didn't get in for 2011 was Joey Saputo. Apparently, $40 million wasn't an amount of money he was willing to part with and Don Garber wasn't too interested in playing hardball.

But then Vancouver got their team.

That had to have gotten Saputo's attention, especially if his team wants to make another run at the CONCACAF Champions League. The only way in is through Toronto and Vancouver in the Nutrilite Canadian Championship, and if the competition is in MLS it makes Montreal all the less attractive to potential signings.

Saputo Stadium is upgradable to 20,000 seats, so having a stadium to play in certainly helps their bid. Saputo just has to be willing to hand over the cash if he wants his club to hit the big time.

And that would certainly include a nationwide rivalry with the fellow Canadian Championship contenders.

The Pacific Northwest expansion has added fuel to the rivalry fire, something that will be continued with the further expansion of the league.

Whether it be Brimstone, Cascadia or Trillium, the future of MLS is in rivalries.