MLS Commissioner Don Garber delivered his annual MLS State of the League on Friday, throwing some interesting information about various topics including expansion, transfers, stadiums and the general future of the league. As usual the 61-year old Garber was pragmatic at times and surprisingly open at others.
MLS State of the League Recap
“When I came into the league, this was a league that was founded almost as counter-seasonal programming,” said Garber when asked about the meteoric growth of teams like Atlanta United. “We realized pretty quickly that that wasn’t a good model. We needed to build soccer stadiums and have them centrally located and have them be right-sized for what our league was at that time.
“I still believe this is about building soccer-specific stadiums in the right locations but every now and again you have something that shocks you. What’s been happening in Seattle (Qwestfield) is the first example of that… And what’s happening here in Atlanta continues to astound me.”
Playoff Format Change Isn’t Confirmed but Not Denied
Garber did little to change the minds of the media who have reported on the change in format for the MLS Cup Playoffs and all but confirmed that it is coming in his own usual way:
“This league is still very young and every we always talk about how we, in the off-season, review our entire competitive format,” said Garber. “We’ve been making fewer changes of late than we had in the early years and I think as league leaders and ownership, we’re willing to take a look at what worked and what might need to be reconfigured to ensure that we have the right format to drive our audience.”
That change could be the elimination of the home-and-away playoff format and going to a knockout, one-game playoff. The move is championed by some who feel that the teams with the best record are not receiving an advantage by having to travel for the first leg and teams who finish lower in the table have found themselves with MLS Cup Championships in recent years.
The move also means that the league would not play through the international November break. The downside is that more midweek games will be required for teams, which has been a request from TV broadcasters for some time but reviled by supporters in major metropolitan areas.
“The idea here is to continually work on making the regular season become more and more important. So winning in March is as important as winning in September or October.”
28 Teams and Beyond
For the first time the commissioner has been less coy about expansion, almost guaranteeing that the league will grow to 28 teams. Asked by journalist Grant Wahl about it, Garber attacked the question head on and appeared far more confident than in year’s past.
“This is a big country,” said Garber. “When we first started looking at expansion, I came in, we were at 12, went down to 10. Went up to 14 in 2005, I don’t know if at that time we’d be at the size we are now.
“Every time that we evaluate how large we want the league to be, it’s really in the context of what we think the country can support.”
Nashville and Cincinnati are joining next year with Miami set for 2020. That leaves two spots available if 28 teams is where the league is headed. Rumors of interest from Phoenix and Austin remain strong. Other leagues such as Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association are at 30 teams and MLS could see their numbers grow to that if the support is there.
NYCFC isn’t Getting a Stadium Soon
New York Red Bulls fans were given a peek into the misery of New York City FC supporters as Garber gave a grim reality of what it would take to get a stadium with in the city limits.
NYCFC joined the league in 2015 and has played every home game, except for two, at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Despite efforts to get a stadium built in the borough and in Queens, they remain a renter despite the league having a mandate back then that team’s have a plan to build a stadium before joining the league.
Perhaps the allure of City Football Group money was too much to turn down, we’ve seen other leagues and countries succumb to the endlessly deep pockets of Arab royal families, but that doesn’t help a team that has now become a sore spot for the league.
“It was one of the more painful processes that we as a league ever had to go through,” said Garber when speaking about how long it took to make Audi Field happen for DC.
“This is a long game when it comes to that. That being said, it isn’t always an easy game when you have facility challenges. The New York City team is popular. The owners of the club are very focused. It’s a great brand, they’ve had great success on the field. I’m confident they will get a solution to what has been a three or four year process of finding a stadium location. Nothing to announce here soon.”
- No changed to MLS All Star Game format
- Campeones Cup to return next year
- No comments on Copa Libertadores inclusion