Wednesday was the deadline for submitting formal bids to Major League Soccer for the next round of expansion, in 2011. Rumors have been flying across the interwebs about who would be in the running; we now know who Merritt Paulson and company are up against.

It's a daunting list.

The announcement came on the official MLS 'sportscenter' knock-off, called MLS ExtraTime, hosted by these sorry looking saps (Greg and Shep).
Without further ado, here are the official Applicants:

--Atlanta. The ownership group is headed by Arthur Blank, owner of the (pointyball) Atlanta Falcons. I tried to come up with a Michael Vick joke, but all I can muster is "I wish it was Ted Turner was getting in on this." The Atlanta Silverbacks of the USL exist today, but Blank is not associated with the club. Stadium plans are unknown at this time.

--Miami. The ownership group is a team effort between FC Barcelona, one of the world's most successful football clubs, and a group of business-people headed by Marcelo Claure, a Bolivian-American Businessman who is Co-Chairman of FC Bolivar, Bolivia's oldest and most successful football club. They have inked a deal to use Florida International University's stadium.

--Montreal. The ownership group is the Saputos, who own USL's Montreal Impact, and the Gilletts, who own both the Montreal Canadiens and co-own Liverpool FC. The Saputos built a 12,000 seat stadium outside of Montreal for L'Impact (god that's a stupid name), and would likely expand it to fit MLS requirements.

--Ottawa. Let's face it, Ottawa doesn't have a chance. There's no way the MLS will force every team to fly all the way to tiny Ottawa to play. No freaking way. That said, Eugene Melnyk is the money man. He has stadium plans and apparently the backing of the Provincial government. I'm not opposed to Canadian teams, but this guy has no chance.

--PORTLAND. As I covered previously (and earlier here), Shortstop LLC is angling to move the Beavers to a new (possibly publicly financed) stadium in Lents and PGE Park would be renovated for square field sports.

--St. Louis. The STL has been trying to get an MLS team for several rounds of expansion (losing out to Philadelphia and, sigh Seattle, last time) and Front Man Jeff Cooper is now promising tons of new private investor $$. They're planning to build a $400 million suburban park complex surrounded by youth fields and totally inaccessible by anything other than Tractor. Also, Cooper is responsible for all those mesothelioma ads on TV. Well, some of them.

--Vancouver. Greg Kerfoot, who owns the 2008 USL D1 Champion Vancouver Whitecaps, and Steve Nash of my Phoenix Suns are the money men. Steven's older brother Martin plays for the Whitecaps, and they have a stadium plan on the shelf from a few years ago: there was not enough support for a USL stadium on waterfront property, but that'll likely change if the MLS gallops into town.

So there you have it folks, Portland's competition for the two MLS expansion franchises for the 2011 season. My take? The League wants the St. Louis group to be the real deal (A mid-america division of Kansas City, Columbus, Chicago and St. Louis is attractive to the Commish), and the big money is behind Montreal. The Miami Fusion folded early on in the MLS, but the combination of Spanish heavyweights FC Barcelona and a ownership group headed by a proven football person is a huge draw. Vancouver has about the same chance that Portland does, but I don't think the MLS will consider two Canadian teams at once.

How's this all going to shake out? Paulson and friends don't have the money to privately finance the stadium deals (cue Daddy Paulson jokes), but whatever the final financing situation, Paulson's biggest battle may be in the court of public opinion here in Oregon. Even though no money will be spent or ground broken until well after 2009, the MLS will decide who wins by early 2009. I desperately want MLS in PDX. I want the Timbers in the best league in the nation, and I think that Miami and St. Louis are our major competitors (I'm assuming they'll pick one Canadian team).

Obviously, it isn't going to be easy.