Before the match at Audi Field, Garber fielded a few questions from reporters.
>> The first topic was the Galaxy’s decision to buy out Mexican attacker Giovani dos Santos’s contract, a deadline-beating move last week to meet the league guidelines of employing no more than three designated players. Until taking action with dos Santos, the Galaxy had four.
There had been widespread speculation that MLS would allow the Galaxy to skirt the rules.
“It was a bit overblown, and that’s okay,” Garber said. “We’re at a point now where people really do care about the water-cooler talk and all the interest in how rosters are being developed and how teams are managing the rules. We knew all along it would get resolved. Every team has to be roster-compliant by Friday night, and they were. There were a lot of discussions as to how they were thinking about restructuring Gio’s contract, and they ultimately ended up buying it out.”
>> A Huffington Post report over the weekend described a small white supremacist element in New York City FC’s fan base at Yankee Stadium. The issue has highlighted the balance between welcoming fans of all backgrounds (who apparently have done nothing wrong inside the stadium) and maintaining a safe environment for everyone.
“We have a strong relationship through our clubs with our supporters. The issue I read about in the Huffington Post is not behavior that’s taking place in our stadiums; it’s the view that some fans have about other fans. Our job is not to judge or profile any fan. It is to manage how our fans are both interacting with each other and how they are acting in our stadiums. At this point, that is how we are going to address the situation. The last thing this league is going to do is start getting into profiling who people are and what their backgrounds are. That is a slippery slope that we are not going to engage in.
"I can assure you if anyone is misbehaving, regardless of what their backgrounds are and regardless of what their political affiliations are, there will be a zero-tolerance policy that we will continue to enforce. . . . If anyone does anything that is in violation of our code of conduct, it’s not going to be tolerated. If people are going to be misbehaving, they are not going to be permitted in our stadiums. You’ve seen that since the beginning of the league.”
>> D.C. United is among two MLS teams still charging families for entry into their youth academies. Will the league address that matter?
“We are in the beginning phases of deep investment into player development. Although this year there were some positive developments on selling players our clubs have been investing in, it’s been a long process to get to the point where there’s been a reasonable balance between buying and selling. All of our clubs have got to find a way to manage some return on massive investments in facilities and costs associated with that.
"I think the concept of pay-to-play is an issue in our country and is something we as the sport and as leaders in our sport need to address. It’s a broader issue than just within our own academies; it’s an issue the leadership of U.S. Soccer and the league [have] got to get together and try to find a solution to. The vast majority of our clubs are free for our academy programs. I have not spoken to Jason [Levien, the D.C. chief executive] to get a sense of what his plans are, but I do think the future for our country if we want to develop players effectively is to have access for as many kids as possible, boys and girls.”
>> Robert Kraft’s high-profile arrest for soliciting prostitution in Florida turned attention on the NFL for possible disciplinary action against the New England Patriots owner. But Kraft is also one of the founding fathers of MLS and the man behind the New England Revolution, a position that could subject him to league penalties.
In an interview with ESPN’s Taylor Twellman, Garber said, “all of us, whether it’s the commissioner, staff, players or an owner has a conduct policy.”
Kraft pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to appear in court March 27.
“We’re aware of the case and following the developments closely,” Garber said. “It is a legal proceeding and as such I probably can’t comment any further.”
On Sunday, Garber said, “Nothing has changed. Nothing more for me to add. The statement [to Twellman] spoke for itself.”
>> Garber spoke of the renewed enthusiasm for United in Washington.
“It is a real positive development. It’s something I am very pleased with and very proud of. There were so many years when this team had lots of challenges. Part of that was shifting ownership and major facility issues. And how there is a buzz around this team both in the league office, among our ownership group. I have a lot of different cities I could have gone to this week, and I wanted to come to their opening game. . . . The buzz is back.
“My first game I ever attended [in 1999] as commissioner was at RFK. I remember hearing about, even before I came to the league, the appeal of D.C. United and its great reputation. I think that reputation is back. I feel good for their fans.”
>> MLS shortened the season this year, thus minimizing potential weather issues in the playoffs. (Previously, MLS Cup was played in December; now it’s in November.) But as the conditions in Denver and other venues this opening weekend showed, the March start remains problematic in some spots.
Asked if the league has set this time period as the earliest to launch the season, Garber said: “I can’t help but smile remembering the former president of FIFA meeting with the president of our country to talk about World Cup and the only thing he really could talk about was how we have to get on the international calendar. We should invite him here today [cold and raining in D.C.] and should have had him attend the game in Denver.
"We are pushing the envelope as far as we can, and I don’t know how in the current environment we are in we can push it much earlier, though as our fan base continues to get more committed to our clubs, no different than in the NFL or German [soccer], fans will come out. I’m probably more concerned with the long break [between seasons]. I wasn’t jumping into the new playoff format with both feet that quickly. It took a long time working with our product strategy group to get comfortable ending as early as we are going to be ending.
"But there is a lot of stuff being floated around in the summertime: the world club championship is being tossed around in June and July. [USSF President] Carlos Cordeiro is talking about playing another continental tournament during that time period. So all of a sudden, we’re going to start looking at potential clutter around the June time period, which has also been for us relatively clean real estate. Everything is shifting.
“After 20 years for me, it’s still in many ways like a start-up. We’re still going through making decisions as the market continues to evolve.”
>> Garber addressed the rise of legalized sports gambling in the United States and how it could impact MLS.
“The [sports] leagues overall are going to support that effort and do everything we can to first and foremost connect with our fans. The most important thing for Major League Soccer as it relates to potential of legalized sports gambling is not necessarily revenue driven; it’s how do we drive more and more fans to participate to get closed to our teams, to participate more deeply in our games. If there is a possibility of a gaming company naming one of our stadiums [as was reported about Red Bull Arena], I’m all for it. We’re in the process of getting close to a major league-wide sponsorship with a respected gaming company. It’s an evolving process, we have to see how it all plays out.
“I have gone to a lot of games in England. Never really objected to the fact someone would come into the owner’s box and take a bet on a game. If people are going to do it, you might as well manage it, organize it, might as well generate tax revenue for it and find ways the league can use it as a marketing tool to have people engage more with our players and our clubs.”