Excerpts from MLS Commissioner Don Garber‘s annual state-of-the-league address (sans the numerous David Beckham questions)…..
*The 2013 MLS season will begin March 2, the earliest start ever.
*The playoff format will remain the same but the league will make a greater effort to allow for more days between matches.
*D.C. United stadium: “I believe there is new momentum in D.C. There seems to be a more focused approach with [partner] Jason Levien both with local government but also with local developers who have access to land. Both [MLS President] Mark Abbott and I have been in discussions the last week with the holder of that land. [The D.C. investment group has] the capacity to be able to put more private equity into a deal, and that makes the opportunity far more viable during these economic times than perhaps it would have been when [the team] was looking for an enormous amount of public support.”
*New England stadium: “The Kraft family continues to be focused on trying to find a soccer stadium solution downtown. … We are looking for public support up in that area because of the cost of developing a project there. They were here in the [MLS] office two weeks ago giving us an update, and it’s fair to say that though there is nothing new to report, the family is focused on it.”
*New York City expansion, possibly by 2016: “Our plans continue for the 20th club to be in New York City, a team that would play in a stadium in Flushing Meadow in Queens. Many potential ownership groups have expressed interest. … We are still in the process of finalizing terms with the city to secure a 10-acre site for that stadium. We hope to be finishing that process very soon. … We believe this second team in New York will help create an opportunity to break through the clutter in this market of almost a dozen pro sports teams. There are 13 million people in this city. Many of them love the game. We need to give them all an opportunity to stop for a moment and pay attention to Major League Soccer, to pay more attention to the Red Bulls, to pay attention to a 20th team, and create very special moments for soccer in the New York metropolitan area.”
*Atlanta expansion: “It would hinge on a new stadium because otherwise there wouldn’t be a place to play. We continue to be in contact with the Falcons organization and hope [it] is able to complete any plans for a new facility. If that is able to come together, try to figure out how an MLS team could be part of their plans. There is no place for us to play [right now]. The Falcons are looking to replace the Georgia Dome so we wouldn’t want to play there. There isn’t a college facility that makes sense; we have looked at that for many years. What we have been focused on is, should the public sector and private sector come together and get a new facility for the Falcons, it would allow us to continue our discussions with how MLS would fit into our mutual plans.”
*Florida expansion: “We need to be south of Washington, D.C. It isn’t a matter of if; it’s a matter of when. And it’s probably a matter of where. We continue to believe Florida needs an MLS team. At some point, I think, it would make sense for a team in Miami. I don’t know when that is; it’s certainly not now. That market continues to change, continues to evolve demographically .. and continues to be an intriguing market for us. We have a spent a lot of time with [USL Orlando City owner] Phil Rawlins. I would call him a friend of the league. We are very impressed with what he is doing. I have spent time with Phil and his ownership group and met with [Orlando officials] with what might happen with the football stadium but also with potential plans for a soccer stadium. We will continue to monitor what happens down there, and then at some point if they are able to finalize a stadium plan that makes sense, we would be very interested in working with them.”
*Outlook about Toronto FC: “You are always concerned with your poor performers. We spend a disproportionate amount of time with the poor performers. It is just a matter of, like it is in all leagues, working as hard as we can to try to support those clubs. I believe their new president/COO is very focused on trying to turn that around. I believe they will be looking to make some bold moves in trying to address their lack of success. It certainly pains us a bit. We look back at what was such an incredible story in ’07; it clearly was one of the launching pads for the development of what we call MLS 2.0, and to see that not continue to the level of what it was in the early years is disappointing.”
*Does an MLS Cup with a No. 4 seed playing a No. 5 seed diminish the importance of the regular season?: “We’re not concerned about that. It’s important to remember most of our clubs — and the reality of the regular season — is how close they are competitively. That is something we strive for; it’s a big part of the DNA of Major League Soccer. On any given Saturday or Wednesday, any team can win, and you never know what can happen in the postseason. I think that is true in another competitively balanced league like the National Football League. It isn’t always the team running the table that ends up being in the Super Bowl.”
*Landon Donovan‘s future: “I hope to spend a little time with Landon. I don’t think anybody who loves this game and is connected to U.S. Soccer or Major League Soccer doesn’t fully appreciate what contributions Landon has had on our sport in this country. He has spent an entire life committed to the sport. I sympathize with what he’s experiencing in trying to soul-search and figure out what his future might hold on and off the field. Unfortunately for Landon, even more so than the Jordans and Gretzkys of the world — or Messis of the world, frankly — Landon had to be not only a great player, Landon also carried a lot of the promotional burden of growing the sport for a decade or more. He had to play during the day and promote it at night. That is tiring. I sympathize with that. I hope he can continue to grow the league and the sport here.”