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Garber: Adding team could result in unbalanced MLS schedule

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The Canadian Press
10/2/2011 5:03:10 PM
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VANCOUVER -- More games involving regional rivalries could be played in Major League Soccer next season.

The league may switch to an unbalanced schedule and there also might be some tinkering with the playoff format, commissioner Don Garber said Sunday.

The new schedule will be announced earlier than last year. This year's full schedule wasn't released until February, about a month before the season began.

"The schedule will be coming out within the next couple of months, earlier than it has come out in the past," Garber said before attending the Vancouver Whitecaps' game against the Portland Timbers at the newly renovated BC Place Stadium.

"We are working hard on trying to finalize what the league format will look like with 19 teams."

Garber was impressed with the $563-million facelift BC Place has undergone. The building has a retractable roof that can be opened or closed in 20 minutes and a soccer configuration that seats 21,000 fans.

"It's a positive development for the sport," said Garber.

The Montreal Impact will become the MLS's 19th franchise next year.

This season the 18-team league was divided into two conferences with nine teams each and played a balanced format. All the clubs faced each other home and away for 34 regular-season games.

"We are going through how we will align and how many games, where they are going to take place and a new playoff format," said Garber.

"We are looking at creating a format that could take advantage of what we think are a number of key rivalries and understanding that it will be difficult to be balanced, meaning it will be difficult to have every team play each other once throughout the year. It's probably too early for me to comment on any of the details."

Bob Lenarduzzi, the Whitecaps' president, said he doesn't see adding more games to the schedule.

"Not being able to expand the schedule, you have to do something else," he said. "The one thing I would want to try and avoid it making the derby games all too frequent.

"We'll be open to what ever the league decides. We have our preferences but we prefer to communicate those within the confines of a meeting room. Either way we are not going to be too upset with what ever the collective decision is."

Next season's playoff format could also be different.

"We always look at potentially changing it," said Garber. "We haven't made any decisions yet."

This season 10 teams make the playoffs. The top three teams from each of the two conferences will advance. Also moving on will be the next four teams with the highest point total, regardless of their conference.

Those four teams will play each other with the two winners advancing to a traditional eight-team bracket.

With three weeks left in the regular season the Whitecaps are the only team officially eliminated from the playoff hunt.

"We are continuing to evolve our playoff format," Garber said. "I think the race this year has been terrific.

"I got a lot of criticism for the play-in games (this year) but we are going right down to the wire. Every game is counting and mattering. I think the playoff format so far has been great."

The roof was open at BC Place for Sunday's game. Fans watched replays on a huge centre-hung video board with two HD screens that are the equivalent to 450, 42-inch flat-screen TVs.

The match was played on a modern turf. Throughout the building there are 800 Wi-Fi points and 1,150 digital screens, new, wider seats; improved acoustics; and enhanced concession and bathroom facilities

The building holds over 50,000 fans for CFL football.

When the Whitecaps play a special curtain or secondary roof is drawn to mask the unused upper rows of seats, creating a bowl within a bowl.

Whitecaps officials are already talking about bidding for events like the MLS all-star game or championship match.

"I can't imagine we're not going to have big events, MLS events here in this stadium," said Garber.

"We have to. It's just a matter of what event and when we can make those commitments."

Don Garber (Photo: Dave Sandford/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
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