It’s rare to see executives from MLS attending games in foreign leagues. With this in mind, eagle-eyed viewers who watched last Saturday’s game between RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund may have spotted a familiar face in the crowd. TV cameras zoomed in on MLS Commissioner Don Garber high-fiving RB Leipzig executives during the East German team’s emphatic 4-1 victory against Dortmund. But what was Garber doing in Germany at such a random match?

Earlier that day, Garber spoke with reporters from The Athletic, The Daily Mail, AFP, and World Soccer Talk to explain the reason for his visit, as well as to answer questions about the league’s deal with Apple, his stance on foreign leagues wanting to play games in the United States, and, of course, Lionel Messi.

Garber was in Germany where he met the new CEO of Adidas, one of its major partners. Similarly, he toured the state-of-the-art RB Leipzig training academy before sitting alongside RB Leipzig General Manager Johann Plenge in the VIP section at Red Bull Arena. MLS executives accompanying Garber were MLS Chief of Club Performance Chris McGowan, MLS Deputy Commissioner Gary Stevenson, and MLS Chief Revenue Officer Carter Ladd.

LaLiga’s plans could create problems for MLS vs foreign leagues

As Major League Soccer edges closer to World Cup 2026, potential pitfalls could change club soccer worldwide. The most obvious one is the settlement between FIFA and Relevent Sports. Depending on the outcome of a Supreme Court decision in the five-year court battle between Relevent and US Soccer, FIFA could permit foreign leagues to play official games overseas.

LaLiga President Javier Tebas told Spanish newspaper Expansion, “I think it could be in the 2025-26 season, but La Liga will play official matches abroad.

“An official match in the U.S. will strengthen our position in the North American market, which is the second market for La Liga after Spain.”

If permitted, the Spanish league may be the first to play official league games in the United States after trying in 2018 to take a LaLiga game between Girona and Barcelona to Miami. If FIFA opens the door for foreign leagues to play in the U.S., the impact on MLS and soccer leagues worldwide would be profound.

While LaLiga may be the first to get a game played in the States, the Premier League may not be far behind. Jon Miller, president of acquisitions and partnerships at NBC Sports, told The Athletic, “At some point in the future, I would love to see a couple of Premier League games open the season here in big stadiums on our opening weekend. And I know that’s something that we’ll continue to push for because I think that there’s an American audience here that would like to see regular season games but in the meantime, we’ll continue to work with the Premier League to do everything we can to make the games available to as many people as possible.”

MLS Commissioner Don Garber answers questions about foreign leagues playing official games in the USA

Garber declined to respond to the remarks made by Tebas. Instead, Garber told World Soccer Talk:

“This is a complicated issue and one that’s just been debated and ultimately continuing a process that FIFA is going through.

“Clearly, we all need to be very thoughtful about how our market develops so that everybody can be a winner. I really care a lot about those people that are investing in the game, doing the work, building the game for the next generation, investing in infrastructure and player development under the guidelines and requirements of our federation and confederation. I do like order.

“MLS is a very structured organization. We’re very focused on good governance, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it evolves over the next period of time.”

Garber’s thoughts on other soccer competitions potentially joining Apple TV

Last year, World Soccer Talk reported that the Bundesliga had talks with Apple. Even though the Bundesliga rights deal with ESPN runs through the end of the 2025/26 season, we asked Garber if he’d welcome the potential of the Bundesliga and FIFA Club World Cup coming to Apple TV.

“We think [Apple TV] is the next generation for a productive, efficient viewer experience,” said Garber. “And if Apple were to form partnerships with anyone else in the football world, I think it would be great for them, whatever partner they would sign up, and for Major League Soccer.

“We were first movers in this space. That’s an MLS quality, but I can’t imagine that there won’t be more deals like this and we’re hopeful that Apple is as ambitious with the rest of their experience and desires in football as they’ve been with us.”

Currently, MLS gives Apple what it can’t get from other leagues: global rights. Elsewhere, most soccer leagues heavily depend on domestic TV as a major revenue generator. So while the Bundesliga and Premier League may not be a good fit right now based on their giant domestic deals, global deals may work better for FIFA-related events. Hence why the FIFA Club World Cup to Apple deal may happen. Plus, there’s the potential of Apple snapping up more soccer rights.

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Other takeaways

Speaking with US soccer journalists, Garber discussed several other topics. They included:

Thierry Henry and Lionel Messi

“When you come to Europe, people understand that there are going to be players that are going to come through. In this [Red Bull] club, Thierry Henry was one of the best players in the history of the game, and he played for the Red Bulls in New York. It’s been a system of legendary players that have come through our league, but there’s only one Messi.

“I think Leo [Messi] is not the kind of guy who will sit around and talk about why he made his decision [to join MLS]. He’s chosen that by how he performs on the field, and how happy you can all tell that he is.”

MLS facing increased competition in the United States

“The U.S. market is the most valuable commercial market in the world. That’s creating opportunities for FIFA, CONCACAF, and clubs that are looking to expand their offices and perhaps play games in the United States.

“We are there [in North America] every day. We are not putting on a concert. We’re in communities developing players.”

MLS believes it is developing a soccer nation

“With 30 teams in the United States and Canada, we are the largest league in the world by a lot. We’ve also got the largest market in the world by a lot. Our opportunity is to lead a soccer nation.

“I think we’ve been a driver of creating the soccer nation in North America, and now we want to drive it in ways that will tell the rest of the world that ‘we get the game’ and have great teams and compete at a high-level and attract the best player in the history of the game, against a lot of competition, to come to our league.”

Garber navigating MLS through what may be a turning point for world soccer

While Garber declined to address Tebas’ remarks, the league has been successful for many reasons, but the most important one is Garber’s leadership. The league has a clear vision, and thus far, it gets what it wants.

Whether that’ll continue in the United States depends greatly on the outcome of the Relevent Sports lawsuit against US Soccer, and whether FIFA grants leagues the right to play games overseas.

If that does happen, it doesn’t have to be foreign leagues playing official games in the United States. For example, it would also allow MLS to play games in Europe or the rest of the world. Imagine if Inter Miami played an official league game against an MLS opponent at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium in Napoli. Similarly, what would an Inter Miami game look like in Buenos Aires?

The possibilities for MLS and foreign leagues are endless. So too are the risks and rewards.

Photos: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire and RB Leipzig.