VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) -- Vancouver was awarded a Major League Soccer franchise for the 2011 season Wednesday, becoming the league's second Canadian team.
MLS started in 1996 as an eight-team league and opens its 14th season Thursday night. Seattle enters the league this season as the 15th club, with Philadelphia to begin in 2010. The other Canadian team is Toronto FC, which joined in 2007.
"Our goal is to become one of the world's best soccer leagues," MLS commissioner Don Garber said at a news conference. "The addition of Vancouver will help us get to that point."
The Vancouver Whitecaps currently play in the United Soccer Leagues' first division. There's no immediate word on whether the MLS team will be called the Whitecaps.
Whitecaps owner Greg Kerfoot leads the Vancouver ownership group. NBA star Steve Nash is also involved along with San Francisco Giants co-owner Jeff Mallett and Boston Celtics co-owner Steve Luczo.
Vancouver was one of four remaining groups vying for a franchise for 2011. Ottawa, Portland and St. Louis also applied. MLS is expected to award a second team at a later date.
The Vancouver MLS team will play at BC Place. The stadium -- a 20,000-seat soccer-specific design -- will undergo about $292 million in improvements before the club begins playing.
"The Vancouver Whitecaps have been a part of our province's history for more than three decades," British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell said. "As an MLS team, the Whitecaps organization will carry on that incredible tradition."
Vancouver Whitecaps FC will continue to field a USL-1 team during the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
"The successful bid for a Major League Soccer franchise offers a whole new level of opportunity for our organization and by extension for our city and our province," Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi said.