As Major League Soccer prepares to host MLS Cup in Los Angeles later this week, commissioner Don Garber has described the 2012 season as "the most successful" in the league's history.
Garber held his annual 'State of the League' conference call with media on Monday. He highlighted the fact that a record 110 countries around the world will broadcast MLS Cup as one of the areas the league continues to grow while saying "consistency will be the theme in 2013" as the league maintains its current regular season and playoff format.
From a Canadian perspective, during the call, Garber called Montreal "a great expansion move." He also weighed in on the failure of Toronto FC to make the playoffs after six seasons in the league but said he has complete faith in MLSE and its president Tom Anselmi to get things right. "As a league we are always concerned with our poor performers. I believe they will be looking to make some bold moves. I have been a party to some of the changes they are about to make and I hope it will get them back on track."
Garber spoke in great depth about the impact David Beckham has had on the league, but spoke with great confidence about the fact that the league will be able to move on and continue to grow despite Beckham's departure. He also said he fully expects the relationship between the league and Beckham to continue: "When the next book on David Beckham is written, it will include a chapter with the league after his playing days are over."
Although Beckham's influence on the league has been highly successful, the Commissioner ruled out any short-term increase in the number of Designated Players available to clubs. "We don't sit here today having any plans to expand it further. We want to continue to increase the quality of play, but we must do it in a way that we will be economically viable. Not many leagues around the world have moved up as many rungs on the ladder in the last decade as we have. There is no doubt the U.S. and Canada are becoming soccer nations," he said.
Here are some of the other key matters addressed by Garber on Monday's call:
On the highest seed hosting MLS Cup: "Years ago when the league was constructed there was the concept that the neutral site would work for us. In the early days it did, but now this is about rewarding our fans and players after a long and competitive season. The home team deserves the honour of playing in front of a home crowd, and giving our TV audience around the world the opportunity to see the great atmospheres we have in our stadiums week-in-week-out."
On attendance records across the league: "The league average was around 19,000 fans per game. There were 114 sellouts in the 2012 season. We are pleased with our growth chart relating to average attendance and it is up by more than 25 percent since 2005. There is a true supporters' culture that is developing and the sights and sounds of MLS are organic and authentic."
On potential of soccer-specific stadiums in New England and Washington D.C.: "I believe there is new momentum in D.C. There seems to be a more focused approached with local government and developers. In New England the Kraft family continues to be focused on trying to find a soccer stadium downtown. We are looking for public support in that area. Though there is nothing new to report, the family is still very focused on it."
On adding a team in New York City: "We are still moving towards having the league's 20th club in New York City. We are currently finalizing terms with city of New York. We are at the finish line, but then we will have to go through an approval process that all developers have to go through in New York City. There are 13 million people in this city and we need to give them an opportunity to pay more attention to Major League Soccer and cut through a crowded market with almost a dozen pro sports clubs. There are several ownership groups interested. It's an exciting opportunity and a wide variety of people have expressed an interest, some of whom we have been holding discussions with. It has always been the league's intention to have two clubs in New York."
On expansion in Florida: "We need to be south of Washington D.C. It isn't a matter of if, but when and where. The state of Florida needs a Division One professional soccer team. Miami continues to be an intriguing market to us. We are very impressed with the ownership group in Orlando. We will continue to monitor what happens down there and if they are to finalize a stadium plan that makes sense we would be very interested in talking with them about the possibility of becoming an MLS team."
On the future for Chivas USA: "I am excited for the future of Chivas USA following the recent ownership shift. I continue to believe we have the opportunity to have a special club in L.A. with tremendous promise to tap into large Hispanic population in L.A. I do believe we will be able to be more successful there."
On developing young players: "Clearly developing young players is one of our top priorities. We will continue to invest vast amounts of money in developing players. We invested $20 million league-wide last year - there was a time when our entire salary budget wasn't even that high. We have spent a lot of time recently talking about the concept of mandatory play for young players. We have done a lot of research on it. We are aware of the success that Mexico has had."
TSN will broadcast MLS Cup on Saturday, December 1 at 4:30pm et/1:30pm pt as L.A. Galaxy take on Houston Dynamo.