By RYAN TOLMICH
As he enters his 16th season in charge of the league, MLS commissioner Don Garber is prepared to usher in a new era. However, that era may begin without Chivas USA.
With the team in the state of flux due to ownership struggles, the commissioner admitted Thursday that Chivas USA may be forced to sit out the 2015 season, and even beyond, as the league looks for a suitable owner. Garber did reiterate his hope to find a buyer by the end of the 2014 season.
The 2014 season will also see the end of the league’s current identity, signaling a new direction.
That path, according to Garber, is influenced by the youth, as the commissioner believes that the league has taken a step with those fans that have supported the league since childhood.
“It’s important to note that next year is our 20th season and it’s an important milestone for us because it is the first full turn of a generation,” Garber said. “From the amount of time that kids spend with their families, we’ve seen this enormous connection with young people that have grown up with the game.
“Now, they’ve all grown up and they are energized and they are active supporters of their local MLS club and their respective national teams and we wanted to reflect that new energy.”
However, the new logo has received it’s fair share of criticism, as the league has opted for a shield instead of a more commonly used ball representation.
“We spent a lot of time thinking about ‘do you put a ball in the logo?’ and, if you look around at the league logos around the world, they all have a ball in it,” Garber said. “The shield represents an identity that is very soccer or football oriented and we don’t believe that we need to take elements of the game to tell the world or our fans that we’re a soccer league.
“It’s what we do in our stadiums,” Garber continued. “It’s what we do with our media partners. It’s what we do with the community that’s going to reflect our connection to the global game.”
The logo debut isn’t the only criticism MLS has faced in recent weeks, as two of the league’s most recognizable faces, Bruce Arena and Michael Bradley, have voiced their opinion about issues they have with MLS — more specifically, the player acquisition process and refereeing
Arena was fined what Garber revealed to be $20,000 for comments regarding the LA Galaxy’s failed acquisition of Sacha Kljestan. Garber said he was disappointed with Arena’s comments on alleged league interference in the deal, which Garber also stated was never presented for approval.
“All of our employees, whether they’re league executives or club executives, even going so far as to including our owners, are bound by an agreement that we will not criticize the system that our ownership is fully committed to,” Garber said.
“I have enormous respect for Bruce Arena and think that he should be a real icon for our sport. It pains me to have to fine him for making comments that he obviously feels strongly about, but feels required by league rules to keep to himself. It’s something that I would have preferred not to do.”
Meanwhile, Bradley, who spoke out against the league’s referees earlier this week, earned the sympathy of Garber, who felt Bradley had a point in relation to the missed call that doomed Toronto FC in their draw with the Chicago Fire last week.
“That referee did not get it right in that game and we shouldn’t be ashamed of saying that,” Garber said. “There are many things that I don’t get right and haven’t gotten right, either every day or in my 15 years as commissioner. While we have a culture where, in our league versus baseball for example, we don’t go public with those kinds of statements, but I feel for Toronto FC.”
Despite his condolences, Garber also stated that Bradley may not escape punishment, as the league could still take action against the midfielder.
“The league is reviewing Michael’s comments and, in light of the fact that it is not an on-field issue, we have time to ensure that we make the right decision there,” Garber said.
“Michael’s the leader of that club, he’s been a great asset to the league. I have tremendous respect for him, but we’ll take a close look at it and see if there’s any discipline required, but I understand and sympathize with his frustration.”
In addition to Bradley, Garber also has a frustrated potential owner to handle, as David Beckham’s Miami project has struggled to seal a stadium plan. Despite the issues, Garber remains committed to the Miami plan and hopes to work towards figuring out details now that he is cancer-free.
“We have been struggling to get a stadium location that we think will be suitable and put the team in a position to succeed,” the commissioner said. “We’re going to go through that process and we are committed to David and committed to the city to try and find something that we think will work. Now that I’m back in the saddle, I’m going to be spending a lot more time on it.
“Right now we’re really focused on having a downtown stadium,” Garber added. “We’ve seen how that has worked for us in so many other markets. It’s a very unique and interesting city and we want to be where all the energy and all the excitement is. We have an energetic new logo and we want to have an energized new team down in Miami.”
What do you think about the Chivas USA situation? What’s your opinion on Arena’s fine? What do you think about Garber’s support of Bradley? How do you see the Miami situation unfolding?
Share your thoughts below.