Blog Written by Sandro (@TransfersCalcio & @sandro_gaga):
Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber visited Syracuse University on Tuesday, March 22. After spending some time during the morning with the Syracuse Men and Women’s soccer teams, Mr. Garber spoke with Rick Burton, professor of sports management, at Hendricks Chapel that evening. MLS has clearly made great progress since Garber became commissioner in 1999. The league has currently expanded to 20 teams with more on the way, secured lucrative TV and sponsorship deals and attracted some world-class players.
The conversation started off about soccer’s governing body, FIFA, which has been plagued by many scandals in the past months. Garber pointed out that FIFA has no constitution and “should be accountable to its members.” He also said the newly elected president, Gianni Infantino, will be a “breath of fresh air” for the organization. As a U.S. Soccer Pro Council Representative, Garber also confirmed the United States will look to host the 2026 World Cup.
Garber says a challenge is that U.S. men’s players are not developing enough even though there are over 100 homegrown players in the league and some MLS clubs are spending “$8-10 million on developing players.” Naturally, he also brought up the cultural differences between American and Europe & South America, “Belgium has a cultural dynamic that we don’t yet have. How do you have a player think about nothing else but the team when they’re 16? That culture doesn’t yet exist and it will take some time before that happens.” Bottom line: “We don’t have a world class player with an American passport.”
When asked about promotion/relegation by Professor Burton, Mr. Garber said “America is different” and “I could give you 100 reasons why it wouldn’t work”, after listing about 4-5 reasons. While it’ll likely never happen, I can give you 100 reasons why pro/rel could work and how it could be effective, Mr. Garber. Obviously the argument is much larger than that but let's save that for another time.
MLS has tapped into a young fan base and Garber realizes this, “Millennials grew up with the game” and sees soccer as “a sport for this new America.” The soccer culture is what makes the sport different. He said proud fans, such as those who stand in pouring rain for 90 minutes to watch their favorite team, are special. Garber brought up an interesting story that in 1999 a merger was proposed between MLS and the Women’s league at the time. Unfortunately, after some meetings it just didn’t work out.
Garber made an intriguing point that there’s only about 55-60 minutes of actual gameplay during a 90-minute match, between dead balls and substitutions, leaving about 30 minutes of dead time. Garber would in fact like to see offside calls to be reviewable but doesn’t think it’ll happen. But wouldn’t it be doable if the 4th official had access to replays on the sideline? It would take about 5 seconds to make the correct call.
Garber cited the fact that he brought MLS in line with international rules after 3 months, abandoning shootouts to settle draws and letting referees keep the time on the field. Since then, MLS has dramatically changed its brand. He thought the “old MLS logo looked like a cartoon.” But now the logo suits each team as it varies color on each teams jersey. MLS has expanded its brand well enough that international viewership is now greater than domestic viewership. Garber then raised an interesting point, which is, “Are we an American sports league playing soccer or are we a global soccer league playing in America?” He added, “Building an American version of a global product is just really complicated.” Garber did admit that, “We have to improve quality of play.”
The league holds every player’s contract and Garber must approve every contract. He confessed it was difficult to let Oba Martins leave the Seattle Sounders to move to China but pointed out his salary tripled. He also admitted that many players and coaches aren’t exactly the biggest fans of the MLS All-Star Game. If they win, it’s that the other team didn’t try and if they lose, the story is they’re not good. Some guys would just like to have a week off since MLS clubs do the most domestic league travelling in the world.
Overall, Garber gave good insight to the league’s achievements so far and it’s plans and goals for the future. Garber is certainly dedicated to continue developing Major League Soccer through a long-term plan.
Fun fact: Mr. Garber’s father attended Syracuse on the G.I. Bill.