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Thoughts from Commissioner Don Garber's MLS State of the League speech (updated)

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Well it is the week (or just over a week) before MLS CUP and that means it is time for the Comish to give an update on the league. As I listen to the call I took some notes and jotted down my thoughts to share with you:

Don mentions the tradition of this call over the last few years and it allows the media to focus next week on MLS Cup by addressing the issues of the league before then.

He mentions the Supporters' Summit, as well as the Board Meeting which will take place the day before MLS Cup, it is one of the few times that the hosting team has been participating in the event. Expect 1,500 Houston fans (says it is the largest number of away fans ever, I disagree he might want to look back at Seattle). HDC is looking at adding more seats for Cup, no decision yet.

High praise for Portland and Vancouver and their role within their communities, speaking highly of Jeld-Wen Field. Talking about the investment in expanded rosters, reserve league and the youth system. He speaks of youth system and how it will be very important to the future of the league as well as the sport in the US. Talking about Brek Shea and C.J. Sapong and the importance of young players, including college players, to the league.

23 Designated players, a plus of 10 this year, the move to get younger DP's will be a big part of feature. He says the single entity league lets the league change and adapt quickly, on the business side there were 87 sellouts this year, sales are up, new stadiums are going up, by end of next year 15 of 19 teams will be in SSS facilities.

Says improving numbers are what drove the NBC deal, thanks Fox for all that they have done. MLS merchandise sales are going up massively and their website is getting better and getting great traffic.

Expansion is still important, they hope to make more progress. Competition news, the committee has gotten together several times, he would like to announce things, but likely at MLS Cup as it needs to go past the Board first. 34 match schedule in 2012, it will be a unbalanced schedule, likely that MLS Cup could be awarded to the team with the most points next year. Playoff format is up for discussion, how to promote attacking soccer, discipline under review, scouting initiative, a deep dive on officiating (he mentioned that he knew fans would be interested in this). How to deal with officiating better, who, how, what they are paid.

"Our officiating is a hell of a lot better than the fans give it credit for" wow, sorry Don you just took all of what you said and flushed it down the toilet.

Best XI: Kasey Keller, Jamison Olave, Omar Gonzalez, Todd Dunivant, Landon Donovan, Brek Shea, Brad Davis, David Beckham, Chris Wondolowski, Dwayne De Rosario, Theirry Henry

That was it for the statements, now we are on to questions. Here are the statements I found interesting:

  • David Beckham question, was it a success for the league? - Hope to see him back, not sure if I expect him back. David has delivered on all aspects of expectations both on and off the field, his presence it important and the league benefits without him and MLS wouldn't be what it is without him coming.
  • DCU stadium and are they moving to Baltimore - Very concerned, frustrated that nothing has happened for DC on the stadium front, they are successful on field and in community. We need to figure out a solution and soon, he is concerned about the teams location for 2012, they didn't have a lease this year. They could be paying more for their lease than any other team in the league, a solution is needed and he has been pushing Kevin Payne and Change, he is supportive of moving if they can't find a local solution. Could move beyond Baltimore if no quality deal is found.
  • Playoffs Question, 10 teams compressed format and does he consider it a success? He loves it, loves the play in games, he believes it is a fair representation of the regular season. The FIFA date poses a challenge, he doesn't believe it impacted the play on the field (3 games in 7 days). A follow up on the playoffs- having 3 best teams on one side of bracket was a concern, will new format address it. Don is less concerned about them top 3 playing each other cause it happens in other sports, he doesn't believe he can address the issue (really, top 8 in and no conferences).
  • Another Beckham question - Galaxy road games have highest attendance, Galaxy is highest rated TV, Galaxy are one of top kits being sold.
  • Cosmos and NY2 question - Cosmos aren't ruled out by the youth lawsuit against them, they are talking to as many people about a potential team there as possible. Stadium is still the issue, they have a full time person working and several consultants working on NY2, (a damn shame they don't commit that to other markets).
  • Another Cosmos question, were they front runners & is NY2 on track for 2012 - League has no timetable for NY2, only impacts other cities as league is focused on only one market (hinting that others are losing interest because of that). They like the new ownership of Cosmos, so they are still prospects and the deal right now is about a stadium and they really don't care about anything else because the ownership will come? Confused is MLS looking at funding the stadium?
  • Expansion outside of NY2 - meeting today with a potential Florida group, Las Vegas, Miami has no ownership group, Detroit does have a group, working with many markets to see if they can build what is needed for successful expansion. (I believe it is the Orlando City group that is in town)
  • New England questions - Gualti gets high praise from Don, and his involvement with the Revolution.
  • Balanced Schedule - 38 games would almost be impossible, weather, stadium availability, FIFA dates, from a competitive perspective the travel impact. The whitecaps traveled almost 60K miles, low end was 30K, while teams in Europe rarely travel 5 or 6K. We live in the US and fans have to just deal with it.
  • Grow National fan base and TV ratings, it needs to be done via rivalries. Teams to love and hate, which really means that the new schedule is going to be full of crappy geographical matches that will render the regular season pointless as it is in the NFL, NHL and other leagues where it is about getting an easy schedule to get to playoffs.
  • Thierry Henry question- A positive impact on the league, on field he has done well and added credibility to the league, others around the world paying attention because of him, looking forward to bigger and better things from him.
  • New York & Expansion again - is Randall's Island one of them? Wilpon's still in mix? Yes Randall's Island is valid, they are researching it. Not sure how to get people on and off the island, don't own any land, but still on the list. Wilpon family hasn't had much contact with the league lately.
  • Long term goals of league? - Goals is easy, they just went through process of defining a unified vision for the league. Presenting to board, be a top league by 2022, a lot of work over a half dozen categories, high quality play, infrastructure, operational goals & performance,having a good league where every team has a chance to beat Man U, want to be the league of choice (fans, players, sponsors, everyone) want to rival other sports for TV ratings and revenue. They know what they need to do, a lot of work to figure out how to get there.
  • Scheduling Question, Couldn't it be dealt with by some better organization - Midweek attendance is up a lot, but no longer a concern, frankly it isn't the driver on the schedule anymore. There will be byes with 19 teams, adds there is a lot of complexity in schedule. A good follow up- will some teams not play the champions?- He believes a unbalanced schedule will help lead to being a better league, it is a complicated process, a full time person at MLS who has consultants who deals with it (a 15 year veteran)(that might be part of the problem?)
  • Toronto FC question- is on field there going to match off field - Their investment in academy, hope that Aron Winter can be successful, hope that they can figure it out.
  • Montreal Impact question and what does unbalanced schedule mean - It means that each team will not play every other team twice this year. They are putting together a schedule that will drive fan interest and provide the best competitive situation, they hope to issue the schedule by early January. Follow up - when will MLS site be available in french? Soon, by start of 2012 season.
  • Balanced Schedule question again - they will explain the competitive changes they are going to present, they think it will work.
  • More DC stadium issue- dealing with public vs. private financing and the other issues that have been involved but the league wants some public funding and mayor says no public funding will be offered (listen the team is moving and the sooner the better).
  • How was the meeting with Jurgen? A long positive meeting, how to get players year round training, but working with the federation is a key. Overseas training will be a part of this, getting them over to train vs. trial and transfer is something MLS can support.
OK, that is all I can cover. But a lot of good information and nothing too surprising, I will offer my thoughts a bit later in the day.