So I thought I would wait a bit and see how I thought about the annual State of the League address and press conference, my first instinct was great but what will really be delivered, but after 72 hours I find my self being a bit more optimistic about it all. Then came Sunday and some real announcements of changes, and now well I still think there are some good things going to happen, and some things that scare me for the future or the league.
Most of you who read my blog on a regular basis know that I have nothing but respect for what Don Garber has done for MLS in the past, but I also question a lot of his thoughts and actions about now and the future. I take exception to people who change their tune depending on what audience they are talking to, and far too often I believe that "the Don" has done that.
So imagine my surprise when I found myself agreeing with large segments of what he said in the "State of the League" address on Tuesday. Of course there are a couple things that I don't see eye to eye with "the Don" on.
The biggest thing I agree with is this statement:
We believe these homegrown players are the future of our league. We are the only professional sports league the U.S. and Canada where a young player can train in the shadow of the stadium in which he'll make his professional debut. That is something that is part of the DNA of professional soccer everywhere around the world, and it's now going to be a big part of the DNA of Major League Soccer.
Which is interesting given the rule changes up to this year, which have focused on expanding the DP's in the league but perhaps the fact that no team with a DP has won MLS Cup (including this year) and now will focus on youth and youth development. That was further echoed in this announcement:
Each club will have a 30 player first team roster in 2011, up from 26 this year. Roster spots 25 through 30 are only players 24 and under and those players will not count against the salary budget.
So, in essence, we're expanding our rosters so we can have more young players. Those young players will now be part of a Reserve Division in 2011. This new Reserve Division will be a major improvement on the one we had a few years ago.
A move that I completely support and believe will help every club in the long term. After the jump some more thoughts:
For a Real Salt Lake fan, I thought one thing was huge was the fact that "the Don" finally seems to be paying some attention to the CONCACAF Champions League:
The CONCACAF Champions League is a tournament that we continue to believe is important for us to perform well in. We'll be continuing to analyze a variety of strategies to help our teams be more successful in the Champions League...
later he was asked:
Q. I thought I heard you say earlier that you're considering ways to give salary budget consideration to teams that make it to the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals. Did I hear that correctly, and if so, can you elaborate how that might work?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: It will be broader than that. Not just the semifinals. Right now we have two teams that will be in the quarters. So when they get into the quarters, as Salt Lake and Columbus are, it goes across an annual season. We don't know that the same players will be on the field.
We're looking at what types of things we can do when the players get into the quarters. Perhaps if they get further, there are other things that we can do.
All Champions League teams will receive more allocation money. That's something that we are discussing at our board meeting.
As I said not everything was to my liking and I think the biggest thing is "the Don" wanting so much to be part of the old Cosmos and what they were that he is willing to buy into what I believe is a "shell game" by saying that he wants another team in New York to be the next MLS franchise:
As I said before, we're very focused on our 20th team in New York. We've been meeting with the city, we've been meeting with the Wilpon family, the owners of the Cosmos name and brand. We've also been meeting with other investors who have expressed interest.
We are very, very focused on this entire process and hope to be able to get something done for 2013.
This is an organization that has no team, no structure, no stadium, nothing more than a couple names and some history, and now here is the leader of Major League Soccer saying he wants them to have a team in just 3 years. I am sorry there are better markets for MLS, the Red Bulls with a new stadium and 3 DP's still couldn't sell out their stadium on a regular basis. I get that "the Don" is fixed on "regional" rivalries, something he never has mentioned before Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver were all going to be in the league at once. It is this jumping from "growth" ideas every other year that I believe shows the real lack of vision and leadership that the league and the sport needs.
I would love to see a 3, 5, and 10 year plan from MLS, something with goals and measurements that both the organization, teams, and fans could rally around. Instead we get this moving target of what seems to be the idea of the year based off what happened to be hot during the current year. So as you can see I came out of the "State of the Union" with more good things than bad things.
Then came the weekend in Toronto and where things started going very wrong in my opinion. First in an attempt to lessen the impact of his halftime statements on ESPN, "the Don" told the media at MLS Cup of his changes to the playoffs before the match, and of course he asked them to not let out the changes until he could make his statement, and that worked for a few minutes.
So the talk is that in 2011 there will be 10 playoff teams, which means there will have to be major changes to how the playoffs are organized. Will you have 5 teams from each conference, or the best 4 teams and then the next 6 best? It sounds as if they are talking about no teams moving conferences:
"Clearly this concept of having two Western teams in your Eastern Conference final, we're not dummies, we know that's probably not something you want to replicate."
So let's look at what that would have meant this year, you would have had LA, RSL, FC Dallas, Seattle, and Colorado from the West. You would have had New York, Columbus, KC, Chicago, and Toronto making the playoffs from the East, meaning a team with 35 points would have made the East playoffs while a team with 36 points would be left out in the West. Yup, that is completely fair.
Why is it that the easiest solution isn't taken? Why is it we refuse to just take the 8 best teams, seed them 1-8 and let them play? Because this isn't about competition, it isn't about giving what most fans (and pundits) want, this is about MLS trying to find another payday by adding more to the playoffs and hoping they can cash in on it.
I understand that "the Don" thinks that lifting a trophy for winning your conference is big, sure it is a special moment if you are at home, a lot less on the road. But why can't you simply create the "Lamar Hunt" and " Don Garber" trophies that get awarded to the winner of the each of the MLS Cup spots? Would it mean less than a the fact that the last two winners of the Eastern Conference have been teams from the West? Would it mean less than leaving a better team home because they play in the West and letting inferior teams into the playoffs because of where they are located?
I also take issue with what was said at the supporters summit today:
We absolutely will establish rules in our stadiums to designate a certain area for traveling fans to be seated," he said. "It was never a problem two years ago. It's a problem or opportunity now, and we've got to manage through that."
You might want to talk with the hundreds of RSL fans that have traveled to Colorado each of the last 5 years and been treated like trash by the Rapids organization. I love that he ignores that fact that TFC fans traveled in the hundreds to Columbus since their first year, or that Chivas fans have shown up in great numbers at a number of stadiums for years. Nope for "the Don" it is about what is slapping him in the face at the moment, I am more and more convinced that he has no plan and is all about reaction and not planning or organizing.
I am sure more will come out when all the details are announced, but clearly the announcements over the last couple days have drawn a lot more attention than the match about to kick off. Time to watch MLS Cup and we will review all the changes and proposed changes (oh yes I left some things out) at a later time. Let's just say some good things are coming, but not everything coming is good.
OFF MY SOAPBOX