Ahead of Saturday's MLS Cup, Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber held his annual State of the League address on Tuesday and talked in depth about many of the issues surrounding the league including expansion, scheduling and how the league can improve.
Over the last year, Major League Soccer has talked of its goal to become one of the top leagues in the world in a decade's time. There's no doubt that an increase in the standard of play is the main area that needs improving for MLS to have any chance of achieving that goal and Garber feels progress is being made, not just with the arrival of big-name Designated Players but also with top young talent being developed in a league where parity is important.
"2013 was arguably our most competitive on the field to date," said Garber. ""We're very focused on competitive balance amongst our clubs. We believe we have one of the most competitive soccer leagues anywhere around the world. We should be even more committed to this vision that we want to be one of the top leagues in the world by 2022. It starts with an increase in quality in MLS play. We believe we have among the best American players playing in the league today."
"It starts with a firm commitment to player development. Our commitment to player development totals over $20 million a year. Players like Diego Fagundez in New England, Real Salt Lake's Luis Gill and DeAndre Yedlin in Seattle have all emerged as key players in our league at under 20 years of age. We now have 90 homegrown players who started in MLS academies and are now playing in the first team. We want to be a leader in this. Going forward, you will see even greater commitments in this."
Garber outlined four key areas that MLS needs to improve if it is to meet its goal of being one of the top leagues in the world.
1. Quality of Play: "As we continue to grow the league and revenues and systems so that we have the ability to attract the best players in the world, we will be able to have a quality of play that will be dramatically different."
2. The passion of our fans: "In order for us to grow what we have, we need to have a dynamic in our stadiums that will be different to other sports leagues in this country and soccer leagues around the world."
3. The relevance of our teams: "We need to have teams that are relevant and important in their market."
4. The value of our enterprise: "We need to have an enterprise that makes sense. It can't be about one or two teams, it has to have all clubs and markets successful."
Other notable information from Garber's State of the League:
• Garber says the league is "making progress" with David Beckham and his partners as they look to add Miami as an expansion franchise. He talked about the need for the right stadium deal to be in place for that to become a reality. He also made it clear that Atlanta is the other target market for team 22 or 23. That leaves a number of other cities fighting it out for the 24th and final expansion team in Major League Soccer including San Antonio, Minneapolis, Austin and St Louis. Garber said the ownership group and a downtown stadium are the two most important factors for successful expansion bids.
• Garber admits the league needs to be more transparent in communicating the rules of the league and says they are "in the process of doing that," but he also admitted "as an emerging league, there are times when we are figuring out the rules as we go along and have the ability to be flexible and evolve."
• Garber said if it was a horse race, he would "put money on" MLSE president Tim Leiweke fixing the problems at Toronto FC. "I'd be encouraged if I was a Toronto FC fan. If anyone can figure out how to turn that team around, it is Tim Leiweke. He has never done anything other than succeed."
• Garber says the league is "trying to figure out" a way to have the final round of regular season matches to be scheduled at the same time.
• Major League Soccer will continue to look into the possibility of moving in line with the FIFA calendar, but that isn't something that will happen any time soon. "As a league, we have in the past looked, and continue to look, at a potential calendar shift. We went through a fairly comprehensive process this year looking at if we could manage a schedule change. It isn't just about whether to play games in cold weather markets, it is about what we would do with an extended break. We will continue to look at it. We looked at it more deeply this time than ever before, but it is not something we are going to do in the short-term."
• MLS Cup will be distributed in 130 countries around the world.
MLS Cup is live on TSN2 on Saturday at 4pm et/1pm pt as Sporting Kansas City take on Real Salt Lake at Sporting Park.