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Leagues: MLS

Don Garber Speaks: Thoughts

Don Garber as always has been conducting a major charm offensive as MLS Cup approaches. But as someone who has watched the league since its inception I’ve become numb or even totally immune to the league’s propaganda. MLS the way I see it has problems and has not delivered the product promised to fans of football in North American upon its inception. However even I can be taken in by the Don at times and do find some of his suggestions for the future encouraging. Here are some thoughts:

Montreal withdraws from MLS expansion race

I fully expected this as Joey Saputo in the past has questioned the $40 million expansion fee asked by MLS considering his current USL side the Montreal Impact sells out its games and has advanced to the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League without spending $40 million. This decision leaves USL viable for the near future. I had publically stated that USL can afford to lose markets like Atlanta (which has now suspended operations), Miami, Portland and even Vancouver. But the league would be in serious jeopardy of collapsing if it lost Montreal which is many ways is the anchor franchise of the league and has increased the league’s prestige by performing so well in the CONCACAF Champions League. While MLS will still have two new teams in good markets, the unstated goal of MLS to put USL out of business has failed for this round. USL’s expansion to Tampa and Phoenix should completely erase any detrimental affects of losing weak franchises in Miami and Atlanta. Portland is a strong franchise in USL but with Montreal hanging around USL can absorb the blow of losing Portland as well.

 No more reserve teams.

Again I don’t understand this decision. I thought the reserve leagues were a major step forward for MLS a few years ago. I agree that expanding the senior roster is critical. However without reserve team setups the league resembles more of a professional sports league in the US than a proper footballing league. It’s no wonder more and more young American players are seeking careers in Europe or even in more remote football leagues. MLS is not committed to player development in 2008 the way it was in 2001 or 2004.

Conference play will continue

I’m happy with this decision. The advocates of single table football do not seem to want to acknowledge the geographic difficulty of pulling this off in the US. The USL keeps a single table which leads to some very ugly scheduling and incredible fixture congestion. Scheduling in a region as large as North America must be based on geography and common sense and not on the desires of fans of European football.

 Playoffs will continue

This is a no brainer as the playoffs provide the most excitement in what is an otherwise difficult football league to watch. However, the timing of the playoffs must be moved to not conflict with a congested period on the American sporting calendar head on.

No deal on Donovan yet

Contrary to reports in the German press, Landon Donovan has not been sold or loaned formally to FC Bayern yet. However MLS must sell Donovan, because he clearly is ready to move on and he among American footballers of his generation has stuck by MLS longer than any other player.

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  1. Chris

    November 22, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    Here's what the pro-east-west conference people don't seem to comprehend…..MLS teams already play every other team twice, one home, one away. The only difference between what they do now and a single table is that MLS teams currently play each team in thier conferences 3 times. Someone explain to me how dropping the 3rd conference game and organizing as a single table is more travel?? Duh – its not. Let's stop using the travel excuse as a reason not to adopt the single table. It's lame and everyone can see right through it.

    Now next year there will be 15 teams. A single table would produce only 28 games. So maybe it might be worth waiting until 2010 when philly joins then it would be 30 games. But please don't give me the travel excuse….it would not cost a dime more than it does now.

  2. undrafted

    November 22, 2008 at 2:58 pm

    I agree the reserve league is a step back, but not much of one since MLS wasn't anywhere close to getting the reserve league right. It wasn't full of real prospects. And it wasn't in the pyramid.

    I wouldn't count on MLS obersving all FIFA dates. Hopefully they'll be able to observe some. Given how tough it is to draw fans midweek or play in most markets before mid-March, there's only so much MLS can do. I'd suggest a rule that they suspend for any date when the USMNT plays a competitive match, during the Gold Cup, and during the World Cup. I think it's self-defeating to play through those. Next year 11 of 15 teams will play in stadiums controlled by someone with a stake in MLS. It's time to start making some changes, but of course they'll probably blame the economy for keeping the status quo. I'll get over it as long as they make clear they recognize the ultimate goal of bette recognizing international dates.

  3. BishopvilleRed

    November 22, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    KK – I also heard MLS will recognize and suspend operations over FIFA international dates. FINALLY! It's insane to expect fans to pay top dollar to watch clearly substandard sides.

    Garber also declared that teams can play Superliga or CONCACAF Champs League, not both. Logical, considering the dissolving of the reserve league

    I agree with our point on the reserve league. Opportunity lost. I see the points UNDRAFTED raises, but I think this is a step backwards. Football-wise, reserves league seems a logical step as a building block with youth programs and academies. Business-wise, an internal contraction looks like a short-sighted cost-cutting measure.


  4. undrafted

    November 22, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    Here's my take on the reasoning behind the demise of the reserve league. It was clear that MLS teams didn't have sufficient depth in proven players. Expanding the senior roster by 2 spots is a long overdue move. But that comes at some cost. With an upcoming CBA renegotiation next year and an incredibly tough sponsorship market, Garber wasn't getting any approval to suddenly up player expenses. The reserve league is nice in theory, but in reality it was full of guest players that wouldn't start at a good NCAA program. MLS was getting bad press for paying guys 12k/yr, even though they were glorified trialists, most of whom wouldn't get higher pay playing elsewhere. It's still to be seen if MLS axed the 12k/yr spots or the 17k/yr spots, but regardless they funded better proven depth by axing marginal 23 year old talent. Guys that 95% of the time are never going to be good MLS players. The cost of this move was the reserve league. MLS teams are starting to invest in youth programs (14-18 year olds). It'd be great to fund both but MLS decided it had to make a choice. Now the development of marginal college grads fall to the USL, their likely permanent home.

    Let's hope for more loans to USL, more PDL clubs, and deliverance on the promises of real youth programs.

    Do you have that original MLS promise in writing? And why did they make it way back at the inception of North America? 🙂

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