MONTREAL- MAY 7: MLS Commissioner Don Garber speaks to members of the media and fans after announcing the expansion of MLS to Montreal in 2012 at the eXcentris auditorium on May 7, 2010 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images for MLS)

Major League Soccer, State Of The League: Changes Are A-Comin'

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Garber: 'It's Frustrating As Hell' To Constantly Be Changing Playoff Structure

Just like lots of the national punditry, Don Garber was not particularly pleased that a Western Conference team will be representing the Eastern Conference in the MLS Cup final.

Even if this is the third straight year a team has represented the "wrong" conference in the championship game, Garber doesn't see any problems that can't be fixed while still keeping the general framework of the playoffs.

"We will never do away with playoffs," Garber said. "There is aboslutely no reason to do it. We will always have playoffs.

"The question is do we have playoffs that are constructed differently. Do we add games? Do we make the playoffs longer? All of these things can happen in a single-table format. Right now we believe conferences are good, but we’ll look at that construction, too."

Garber admitted that he'd rather see a static playoff structure, but said that's the nature of the league as long as it is evolving.

"We are frustrated with the constant tinkering," Garber said. "But we have to be brave enough to know we are still in the middle of the process. To keep things the way they are for consistency basis would be wrong.

"At some point, we’ll be done expanding. But expansion is good. We have to continue to evolve. We’ll settle into a permanent system in the next three to five years but probably not before then.

"It’s furstrating as hell, but it’s conceivable we will change them every year (for the next three seasons to accommodate expansion teams in 2011, '12 and possibly '13)."

In addition to the possibility of adding games, Garber suggested the league could also expand the playoffs to include additional teams as well as potentially move the MLS Cup from a predetermined city to the home stadium of one of the participating teams.

"It would be great to see local fans celebrating a championship in their market," Garber said. "Boy, there’s something special about that home team playing in front of their fans for a championship."

From the sound of it, two things seemed to have an effect on Garber's thinking regarding the championship game. Reading between the lines a little, he seems to have really appreciated the environment Sounders fans created during their U.S. Open Cup title game. On the opposite side, Toronto FC fans' displeasure with being forced to buy tickets for Sunday's game as part of their season-ticket package did not go unnoticed.

"I didn’t expect Toronto to end the season on the note with their fans they did," Garber said.


MLS Teams Competing In CONCACAF Champions League Could Get Extra Funds

The Los Angeles Galaxy (Supporters' Shield winners), FC Dallas (Western Conference champions), Colorado Rapids (Eastern Conference champions) and Seattle Sounders (U.S. Open Cup champions) will all compete in CONCACAF Champions League next year, Don Garber confirmed on Tuesday.

All four teams could be in line for additional allocation funds to help them compete in the tournament that adds as many as eight games to teams' already crowded regular-season schedules. Teams that advance beyond the group stage could be given even more funds.

"The Champions League is a tournament we continue to believe is important for us to perform well in," Garber said. "This is a priority for us. It’s something we’re trying to figure out the right way to do it while keeping the integrity of our entire league system. It’s something we’re focused on."

The MLS Board of Governors will vote on this change during its meeting on Saturday.

MLS could send a fifth team to CCL if Toronto FC or the Vancouver Whitecaps win the Canadian Championship next summer. They will compete for a spot with the Montreal Impact and FC Edmonton, which are both planning to compete in the NASL next season.


Major League Soccer Expansion: New York Is Clear Favorite For No. 20

The New York Cosmos do not employ any actual players. They do not have a coach. But MLS Commissioner Garber clearly wants that to be MLS's 20th team.

"We’ve been meeting with the city, with the Wilpon family and the owners of the Cosmos name and brand and other investors who have expressed interest," Garber said. "We are very very focused on this entire process and hope to have something done by 2013.

"The Red Bulls are very supportive of it. They believe a local rival will add even more passion for the sport and for the league in this market."

Garber basically said that a city of more than 13 million people should have no problem supporting two teams, especially if one of them is located in Queens — currently a favored location — or one of the other boroughs.

The basis for this belief appears to be based on the success of the Cascadia rivarly in the Pacific Northwest. Garber spoke of glowingly of the three-team derby that hasn't even made its MLS debut.

"We're very focused on local rivalries as a key driver," he said. "By driving local relevance we can drive national relevance.

"The phenomonean in the Pacific Northwest is something we could never dream of. Passion in the Pacific Northwest has driven TV ratings. Rivalries really do matter. We’ve been very focused on broadening our footprint, but we do believe we need more rivalries."

Garber also mentioned that MLS is currently in discussion with a group in Atlanta as well as several groups in Florida, including Miami, Tampa and Orlando.

"I can’t imagine this is a league that doesn’t have teams south of Washington D.C. It’s inconceivable. We have to. It's just a matter of when."

With Montreal already slated to be the league's 19th team, the only way MLS can both put another team in New York and expand south of DC is by growing beyond 20 teams.

Clearly, Garber does not intend the generally accepted limit of 20 teams in a first-division to constrict MLS.

"We know that in time, there will be a lot more teams in MLS," Garber said. "It’s a big country. We cross (four) time zones. I don’t know when we’ll go beyond 20, but it will be sometime in our lieftimes."


MLS Continues Emphasis On Scouting & Development With Reserve Division Revival

Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber's marathon State of the League address confirmed several months of rumors that will put a smile on the faces of many North American soccer fans and young players throughout the United States and Canada. In 2011, the league will revive its Reserve Division with three six-team divisions and a double round robin within each division, making for 10 reserve matches. Reserve teams will also be free to schedule matches with non-MLS reserve teams, whether they be USSF Division 2 teams, PDL teams or anything else the club can arrange, giving players more opportunities to get necessary matches in.

MLS will also expand their senior rosters to 30 players, with six spots reserved for players younger than 25 that won't count against the salary budget. Reserve division teams will be made up of those players, players on trial or players in their respective teams' academies.

"This is a major improvement over the one we had before," Garber said.

The Reserve Division existed in MLS from 2005 to 2008, but the last two seasons have been competed without reserve matches. The original Reserve Division was full of follies with clubs not having sufficient rosters to field reserve teams, forcing teams to play ticket sale representatives in some matches in addition to other issues. However, with MLS rosters expanding to 30 players in 2011, the Reserve Division could provide the growing number of young, homegrown players to get valuable match time as well as more chances for developmental players to impress.

Many observers have spent the last two years campaigning for the return of the Reserve Division for the reason that there were not enough opportunities for players to grow and develop with the extra matches that the Reserve Division provides. Among the players who got a chance to impress in MLS because of the Reserve Division is Herculez Gomez, who performed in Reserve Division matches before moving to the Los Angeles Galaxy's senior roster and eventually on to the Mexican League where he won the Golden Boot. Chris Wondolowski, who led MLS in goals in 2010, came through the Reserve Division and two players who will start in Sunday's MLS Cup for the Colorado Rapids, Omar Cummings and Jeff Larentowicz, both came up through the Reserve Division as well.

With the Reserve Division making a comeback, the expanded MLS rosters and growth of the homegrown rule, which allows teams to sign and develop more of their young academy products, the league is clearly placing an emphasis on youth development and expanding the talent and scouting pool. Not only will this be crucial to the development of MLS, but it will also serve the US National Team well as more players who could have never gotten a look get the proper coaching and opportunity to forge a career as a professional soccer player, possibly ending in playing in the World Cup for the US as Gomez did. The revival of the Reserve Division is another piece of that puzzle as the league and country's soccer development and scouting programs continue to evolve.


Major League Soccer, State Of The League: Changes Are A-Comin'

Whether speculating on the next expansion city, discussing the state of the Reserve Division or possibly revealing who has won the MVP award, MLS Commissioner Don Garber was at least willing to take on variety of subjects during Tuesday's State of the League address and subsequent question-and-answer session.

The session lasted nearly 90 minutes and touched on just about every issue near and dear to the hearts of the league's observers.

The biggest piece of actual news was probably the relaunching of the Reserve Division. The Cliff Note's version is this: Each team will field a team that features only players on the roster, training with the team or are members of the team's academy. There will be three six-team divisions and each team will play a 10-match schedule.

The other piece of significant news had to do with the league naming a Best XI: Donovan Ricketts, Jamison Olave, Omar Gonzalez, Nat Borchers, David Ferreira, Dwayne DeRosario, Sebastian Le Toux, Javier Morales, Landon Donovan, Edson Buddle and Chris Wondolowksi. Garber noted that Donovan made the team as a midfielder despite appearing on the ballot as a forward.

Much of the other changes Garber reported have not yet been finalized, but one thing is clear: MLS is going to look a lot different in three years than it does right now.

  • He repeatedly made it clear that his preference is for a second New York team to be the league's 20th franchise.
  • He said plans are in the works to raise the salary budget and suggested teams that make it CONCACAF Champions League could be afforded extra funds.
  • He openly aired frustrations over the need for constant evolution, but cautioned that the schedule and playoffs would likely continue to evolve as long as the league expanded.
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