Wednesday, 16 Jan 2019

MLS Commissioner Don Garber on expansion ambitions: 'This is a big country'

"I do not anticipate an announcement, but there is no doubt in my mind we can support having more than 28 teams," MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. "No doubt in my mind." (John Minchillo / Associated Press)

ATLANTA – MLS will expand to Cincinnati next season and to Miami and Nashville as early as 2020. Austin seems certain to get a team, and probably not at the expense of mistreated Columbus.

That would be expanding MLS to its stated goal of 28 markets. On Friday, however, Commissioner Don Garber said he envisions the league growing beyond 28.

"This is a big country," he said during his annual state of the league address. "There has been so much that has gone into the past decade or so in this sport, that it has been empowering to a lot of people in the United States and Canada. It really is in the context of what country will support. "

Garber said MLS is expanding in Canada, where teams operate in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

But with several U.S. cities interested in bidding for teams – and willing to pay expansion fees over $ 100 million – the league will not necessarily put the brakes on additional markets.

"We will grant the 28th team in the next 12 months and then have to decide if we want to go ahead, beyond 28 teams," he said. "That's a discussion that is taking place."

The next board of governors meeting is Thursday in New York.

"I do not anticipate an announcement, but there is no doubt in my mind we can support having more than 28 teams," Garber said. "No doubt in my mind."

Prospective cities include Sacramento, St. Louis, Detroit and Phoenix, among others.

Twelve years ago, MLS was operating with 12 teams. There are two teams in each of the New York and Los Angeles metro areas. Austin would become the third city in Texas with a team, joining Dallas and Houston.

Columbus investor Anthony Precourt has been attacked by the Crew, a 1996 founding member, to the Texas capital. With resistance in central Ohio, MLS seems likely to keep a team in Columbus under new management and allow Precourt to start from scratch in Austin.

Also of note:

The playoff format: MLS is eyeing changes to the format, starting next season. Under the proposals, which still needs to be approved by the board of governors, higher seeds would receive true home-field advantage by hosting a single-game playoff throughout the postseason.

Currently, only the four first-round matches and MLS Cup are decided in one match. The conference semifinals and finals are two legs, with each team hosting one game.

"My guess is we'll probably end up with something a little bit different than we have now," Garber said. "The idea here is to be continually working in a more effective way." So winning in March is as important as winning in September and October.

"The playoff format we are evaluating is really going to place a strong emphasis on the regular season."

Women's soccer: Garber is encouraging MLS owners to consider investing in National Women's Soccer League teams, if such a move makes financial sense.

"There is no reason, if the market can support it, that we would not want our teams in these stadiums," he said.

Currently, there is MLS-NWSL synergy in Portland, Salt Lake City, Orlando and Houston. The NWSL team in Chicago plays at Toyota Park, home to MLS's Fire, but the teams have separate investors.

D.C. United has contemplated making an offer for the Washington Spirit and moving it to Audi Field from Maryland SoccerPlex. Los Angeles FC, which includes Mia Hamm as an investor, has been long-rumored to be planning a women's team.

In the big picture, Garber said, "we need to believe in the soccer-nation thing."

"While I am very proud of the fact that Major League Soccer has been a big driver of some of the successes that have gone on in the sport, I do think we could said. "We would like to see the whole [soccer] enterprise here in North America grow. "

The NWSL has been completed with nine teams. Previous attempts to sustain women's pro last season (WUSA and WPS).

Playing aboard: The decision by some MLS academy players to join clubs in the homegrown contracts "is a big issue for our league," Garber said.

MLS teams maintain the league rights to such players but can not prevent them from pursuing opportunities elsewhere.

"While I'm not sure it's all about young players chasing their dreams [by signing abroad] As it is international clubs chasing our young players, that is something we need to wrap up our collective minds around and figure out how we manage in their youth academies, Garber said.

He added that American soccer should start participating in training and solidarity compensation; This is when the youth development organizations, whether aligned with a pro-league or independent, receive a share of a transfer fee involving a player. Citing legal complications, the U.S. Soccer Federation does not enforce the FIFA rules on the matter.

A careful balance: As mature MLSs, Garber believes the league should become more active in selling players abroad – an approach in which clubs profit from a player's rising value and, in theory, invest the returns in fresh talent.

Notable transfers this year included Vancouver Whitecaps forward Alphonso Davies to Bayern Munich and New York Red Bulls midfielder Tyler Adams to RB Leipzig. Columbus goalkeeper Crew Zack Steffen is reportedly moving to Manchester United and Atlanta United attacker Miguel Almiron is eyeing Newcastle.

Several European teams are monitoring D.C. teenager Chris Durkin.

Garber said: "In the world of global soccer, players get sold out." In those countries, they're not about to worry about building a league. how do you create consistency? We have a different dynamic [but] we're part of the global game.

"We have been buying for so long. As we've been going through the analysis, it's hard to justify that investment [as well]. We've got something going this way or else it's going to be unsustainable. "

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