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Don Garber: MLS can become ‘guinea pig’ for use of technology in soccer

DonGarber2 (Getty)


When Don Garber spoke at a sports conference in Boston on Friday, the top question on tap was unsurprisingly about ongoing negotiations with the Major League Soccer players union. And Garber unsurprisingly had little to add to what has been said publicly already — he remains hopeful the upcoming season will start on time.

But Garber, the league’s commissioner, also hinted that MLS could see other changes in the future — if he gets his way — as he wants to position the league on the cutting edge in a sport that has resisted the introduction of new technologies.

“If I were king, we would have instant replay,” Garber said at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference on Friday. “We would have cameras on our players. We would be putting them in our goalposts. We would be having microphones on our field. Our guys would be wearing GoPro cameras.”

FIFA, the world’s governing body of soccer, only introduced goal-line technology last year and FIFA president Sepp Blatter made it clear the move would not open the door for other technological enhancements, such as video replays for controversial calls.

The key demographic for MLS is young people — the people who have lived their whole lives surrounded by technology — and MLS would make an ideal testing ground for new ways to engage fans, Garber said.

“We would be doing a whole lot of stuff to be able to attract the attention of this new young audience that’s connecting with us as their sport of choice,” Garber said, as reported by the AP. “In order to do that, we have to engage with them in ways they are used to. Let us be the guinea pigs for just about anything these folks want to do.”

On the subject of collective bargaining agreement negotiations between the league and the players union, Garber reiterated that talks are continuing with the help of a federal mediator.

“We had hoped that by now this would have been resolved,” Garber said. “I’m hopeful. I believe, and I know I speak for our owners — nobody’s looking for a work stoppage. We are prepared for it, but we’re all hopeful that we are able to bang through these issues.”

Negotiations took a break over Friday and Saturday, but will resume on Sunday, Garber said. The MLS 2015 season is scheduled to begin the upcoming Friday.


What do you think of Garber’s comments? Would you like to see MLS embrace new technologies that are seen more widely in other sports? Do you think new elements like instant replay would help or hurt the sport?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. How does he ever expect MLS to be taken seriously when he refers to his league as a “Guinee Pig”? Rinky dink commissioner = rinky dink league.

  2. I would like to see the referees have microphones that tv viewers can hear when they talk with players. That’s what the AFL (Aussie Football) has and it brings better transparency to the game. Not that soccer has ever been fans of transparency.

    The GoPro idea sounds ludicrous.

    • Rugby does this as well. I particularly like the discussions between referees and TMOs, as well as the discussions between referees and captains after some mass confrontation.

  3. And you wanted to know why foreigners have a hard time taking MLS seriously. I would suggest that the integrity of any sport depends on its being the same at every level — from the public park to the biggest stadium. Introducing new technology makes sense only if you can introduce it everywhere.

    There is no doubt that refs make mistakes. And a few of those mistakes could be corrected with cameras, but as anyone who has watched an NFL game knows, cameras can’t correct most errors. If NFL refs, as they are wont to do, decide to rewrite the rules regarding pass interference, no amount of gadgetry is going to correct the situation. What would help would be better and stricter supervision of refs, including strong penalties for imposing idiosyncratic interpretations of the rules. And here is where the parallel to MLS is the strongest. I suspect that MLS refs on some level know and understand the rules, but on the field they consistently fail to enforce them. Tackles from behind or “professional fouls” earn a yellow care almost everywhere in Europe, but not in MLS… and so on. Garber would be well advised to shift his attention to improving the refs rather than fooling around with the latest toy.

    • Foreigners have a hard time taking MLS seriously because Garber is open to wider use of technology? Not sure how being foreign affects that, given that so many foreigners have no problems embracing sports where technology’s role has grown, like cricket, tennis and rugby.

      • Foreigners do take MLS seriously, but cringe nonetheless at proposals to make the game more “attractive” to youth, made by businessmen in the entertainment industry..

        In fact, foreigners cringe at they way a lot of things are done in America, the result of businessmen in entertainment.

    • “What would help would be better and stricter supervision of refs, including strong penalties for imposing idiosyncratic interpretations of the rules.”

      with all due respect, that is never going to happen in mls, imo. although i do agree with what you are saying. what is far more likely, imo, is taking some of that “idiosyncratic interpretations of the rules” away from humans and giving it to a camera, gps chip or motion sensor that isn’t so creative in its interpretation of data as humans sometimes can be.

      unless attitudes about “professional fouls” being okay change, then, i agree, you’re right.

      • My understanding is that someone already reviews films of every game, so it is already possible to discipline refs for interpreting the rules improperly. Since MLS refs are actually very consistent in allowing physical play that would not be tolerated in the “big” leagues, I have to assume that those supervising the refs are fine with it. (I suspect that league officials are too.)
        Instant replay is unlikely to do much about a failure to penalize professional fouls or anything similar. The ref is not likely to overrun himself over a matter of interpretation.
        I am not optimistic about MLS refs improving in the near term, but I would argue that reducing physical play would go a long way towards improving the technical quality of the league. As it is, a technically competent player is likely to be mugged by some athletic but less competent player. MLS needs to do far more to protect the technically competent players.

  4. This reminds me of a very good episode of the Radiolab podcast about American Football. They propose that the reason it’s such an enormous success (commercially) is because they constantly embrace technology unlike other sports which try and remain traditional. Sounds like Garber has drank the Gatorade! – HIghly recommended even if American Football drives you insane like me, such an interesting history that I promise you have never heard.

  5. emphasis not on challenges – emphasis on improving the official’s calls

    i get what people are saying about challenges (challenging the ref’s decision as in nfl today). i think that shouldn’t be the focus, though. to me, the focus should be on empowering the referees with technology to IMPROVE THEIR OFFICIATING. only god knows. but suppose, now, officials get the calls “right” about 85% of the time. but, with technology assistance, that can be increased to 95%. to me, that’s awesome. do others here not think so? if the refs calls become more accurate (again, only god knows), then the referee starts to disappear and we all start enjoying WATCHING THE GAME which is what we all really want, yes?

    my two cents about it, cheers!

    • If you are keeping track of how many times the referee screws up then you are watching the game all wrong. You are a half empty kind of person.

  6. everyone has their own opinions, right? look, how many times did you find yourself becoming angry. yes, angry! because you thought that the referee was blind? or possibly, lacking intelligence? or both? this is not 1492 anymore. the land that christopher columbus discovered is now populated by people like us with computers and cell phones and you name it.

    oh, please, god, yes, please! put the camera in the goal. use the technology. i beg you, really!

    • 1. Christopher Columbus didn’t discover America and all.

      2. If you don’t like the game without technology than you won’t like it with it. Just stop watching go do something else.

  7. Wake up sheeple. Garber is talking about GoPros, tracking, and being guinea pigs for new technologies… then makes a dissmissive comment about the labor dispute. Put it together!

    Robotic drone replacement players by week 2. Remember where you heard it first.

  8. Garber needs to let football decisions to football people. He needs to concentrate on what he does best: exploiting the players.

  9. Garber is a knucklehead.
    What is the restart for a offside call that is reversed? A free kick?
    Thank God FIFA will never go for this.
    Only a person that has never played or officiated the game would ever advocate this.

    • the referee must, i think, DELAY CALLING OFFSIDES for several seconds (allow the play to continue) until he receives confirmation, perhaps, over his headset (possibly from a technician off the field who is using technology). the computer tells the tech “offsides”; the tech says “offsides” into the referee’s headset, the ref makes the offsides call.

      totally agree. once it’s called, yeah, how can you reverse it? gotta delay that call, i think.

    • What is the restart for a offside call that is reversed?
      A dropped ball for the inadvertent whistle – just like it is now.

      But you were being cheeky, and I’m sure you know that we don’t really care about offside calls that weren’t offside so much as we care about offside non-calls that were offside.

      • he can tell us if he was being cheeky. but no, i think both versions (incorrect offside call and incorrect offside non-call) are both equally bad. incorrect call: stops a break-away or other potential scoring opportunity. your team can never get that magical moment back again. incorrect non-call: a shot on goal, perhaps, that should never have been allowed, obviously.

        no, i think we must prevent both versions. both are equally bad.

    • algorithms exist to judge offside just as fast as a human can process the though

      ( I played college soccer and also had a reffing licence )

  10. “We would be doing a whole lot of stuff to be able to attract the attention of this new young audience that’s connecting with us as their sport of choice”

    So the growth of the sport is dependent on on-field technology?

    Man, Don Garber really doesn’t understand the game.

  11. Really I think technology could be v simple Both coaches allowed 2 appeals only during the game 1 ea half then for ex a bad offside, dive ball really crossed over the goal line.. Whatever the coach perceives as a bad call etc all may be appealed Now the appeal is examined by a man in the box who sees instant replay & tells the ref what we all saw & the ref missed or maybe got correct. No one can see or try influence this “guy”Two appeals the whole game only means use your appeals carefully. This will not hurt the overall game nor delay it needlessly etc. Furthermore players would be caught diving, hand balls , off sides would no doubt all be caught. An apparent goal over the goal line etc.. The spirit of the game is not hurt & technology is embraced my 2c a win win

  12. I would love technology in soccer but it has to be perfect, very perfect.
    The goal post cameras are a must, but if garber is talking about technology in soccer, then he must definitely give power and technology to the ref and assistant refs.
    Simple as that, by having goal post technology and empowering the ref crew, that would be enough.
    There’s no need for having a red flag like nfl or stopping the game a thousand times.
    Just empower the ref crew, and give them technology and help them.
    Break it down step by step and you will know there’s no need for big technology in soccer.
    One thing soccer needs is a time out box like hockey has for the fakers and mild fouls, which connects to an orange card.

    • Awesome, we need to put an end to the pathetic diving common in European leagues and no more controversial offside call. Have the players wear GPS bracelets to determine exactly where a player makes his run removing the common incorrect call by an official 20 yards sometimes more away. Did I just give away my technology idea that could be worth millions?

    • I personally would be ok with it. Forget this”human” element that everyone talks about, i am sick and tired of the gamesmanship and diving that happens in this sport.

      • Bring on instant replay (as long as the number of times it can be used in a game is severely limited) and offside call technology (supposedly already possible according to a company in Germany). I don’t understand people beef with instant replay. It won’t interrupt the game any more than both teams surrounding the ref to argue a cal. I think it would delay the game less, and more likely result in a better call. I’d like instant replay to be used as a trade for a player substitution. So a coach can call for instant replay 3 times a game, but that uses all his subs. Or use instant replay twice, and have 1 sub, etc. Anyway, “true” fans hated the countdown clock and scoreboard when the were first introduced (in the USA btw), but now everyone does it. it’ll be the same with instant replay.

      • 100% agree. It’s all a Trojan horse for commercial breaks. (Plus, stopping the game constantly to look at a replay would kill the game. NFL is unbearable with that crap.)

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