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Don Garber touches on expansion, spending and more in MLS address

Photo by Isiah J. Downing/ USA Today Sports
Photo by Isiah J. Downing/ USA Today Sports

Don Garber is quick to admit that the current movement in Sacramento has caught his eye, but those hoping that the league will make its way to the city will need to display one further trait: patience.

Since the founding of the USL’s Sacramento Republic, the city has found itself emerging as a premier soccer market. Averaging 11,000 fans per game at the lower levels of U.S. soccer is certainly an impressive feat, catching the eye of many across the nation’s soccer landscape. Sacramento officials have made their desire to have an MLS team known for years. Stadium proposals soon followed, and now the city of Sacramento is seen as one of the strongest candidates for MLS expansion.

Garber is fully aware of what is going on in Sacramento, a market that he admitted will be high on his list when the league expands past 24 teams. However, with a second Los Angeles Team, Minnesota, Atlanta and, at least currently, Miami, still on their way into the league, Garber says those in Sacramento will have to be patient as the league continues to move through the expansion process.

“Sacramento had not been on the priority list,” Garber said. “It was never part of any plan when we launched the league or when we went back to San Jose. Then, we started seeing what’s been happening with the Republic and their great ownership group and we had to take a step back and say ‘man, this is really special’. We need to work together to find a way to work them into the league, but we need to do it in a systematic way.

“We’re in the long-term business, and I subscribe to the idea that life is a long time, and this might be painful in the short-term, but long-term I really believe that the Republic will be int his league and they’ll be a really popular club and everybody will forget the drama and the uncertainty of where they are today.”

Garber went on to confirm that the San Jose Earthquakes do have rights over the market that Sacramento would fall into, although the MLS Commissioner revealed the Quakes ownership has been incredibly supportive of what’s in “the best interest of the league”. Still, Garber made sure to shy away from any formal commitments, including the idea of Sacramento replacing Miami in the expansion pecking order.

“We are very impressed with what the Republic has put together and we really are impressed with what the city has been able to do to get behind their stadium project,” Garber said. “That’s certainly has gotten our attention. Today, we are very focused on our expansion plans in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Minnesota, and where we stand with Miami.

“We have announced that we will go beyond 24 teams, and I think Sacramento will be very high on our list of next clubs to come into the league. Now, we’re going to continue to monitor what goes on there, we’ll pay close attention to how they continue to develop their USL team, but I want to applaud the city for what they’ve done to support the Republic’s desire to be in our league.”

Here are some more news and notes from Don Garber’s State of the League address:


Like it or not, MLS is built around a salary cap system, and Garber says he believes that system has plenty of room to evolve as revenue continues to build.

Barber told media that player spending has quintupled since the 2007 season, while the $120 million spend on Designated Players is six times more than the money spent just five years ago. With TV money, ticket sales and expansion fees continuing to rise, Garber believes that things are on their way up when it comes to player spending.

Still, Garber knows that the league will need to spend more if it is to be counted among the world’s best. Citing competition from Liga MX, Garber says that growth is on its way, although it will be on calculated erms.

“We have been going about building quality systematically and I think that systematic, strategic approach has allowed us to be in the position that we’re in today, which is careful and controlled growth,” Garber said. “It started in 2007 with the need to bring in a bigger name, more experienced international players that that led to the Designated Player rule.

“Then, at the bottom of the roster, and this has a lot to do with our relationship with the Canadian Soccer Association and U.S. Soccer, we needed to invest in youth development through a mandate with our academy program, but also doing it with trying to show value with having a HomeGrown Player rule for example. Where we are now is focusing on the core of our rosters, the middle of our rosters, positions four through seven of five through eight, and that’s what the TAM program is all about. Ultimately, as our revenue’s grow, we can ensure that our resources are effectively applied to all three of those segments.”


Garber recently made headlines with his comments regarding the possibility of an MLS team playing in small-market Chattanooga, but the MLS commissioner insists that those small markets will have a major part to play in the game’s future.

As the league continues to develop a partnership with the USL, Garber believes that the growth of American and Canadian soccer will be majorly impacted by teams on the lower levels. Although the commissioner will allow each team to make decisions that best fit their particular cases, Garber says the USL offers clubs a chance to develop talent while furthering the game via grassroots efforts.

“The relationship is a strong one,” Garber said, “and I really do believe, and I know many fans question this, in the soccer period and I believe that there is a place for secondary leagues to help grow the sport at all levels. We’re trying to create a nation in these two countries for professional soccer fans and followers, as opposed to just fans and followers of national teams and foreign clubs.

“In order to do that, you need to have boots on the ground and local players in the community and teams that are doing great things, including and especially in places like Chattanooga. You’ll see more and more investment in the lower levels and I can’t even imagine what it’s going to look like 10 years from now.”


With a large amount of players set to represent their countries next summer, MLS is looking to take some sort of break during the Copa America Centenario.

“We’re very seriously considering taking a two-week break during the Centenario,” Garber said. “We’ll talk to our board about that this weekend and the league is supportive of taking that break.”

The Copa America Centenario, which will feature the 10 teams of CONMEBOL and six from CONCACAF, will be held from June 3-26 in the U.S.


The use of the away goals rule has long been a point of contention for soccer fans, prompting MLS to reassess the league’s decision to utilize it as a playoff tiebreaker.

Like they do every year, the league is set to reevaluate several competitive systems that are currently in place, and Garber stated that chief among them was the use of the away goals rule. Garber pointed out his belief that the playoff system has become more and more competitive, although the league is hoping to find a way to reward teams that have proven themselves more throughout the regular season.

“We do sit down and look at our competitive format deeply every year, and this is one of the things we should look at,” Garber said. “I believe we should take a look at the away goals rule. We’ve had it for a couple of years, and we shouldn’t be afraid to evaluate whether or not that is working to inspire the kind of play that we want in each leg and whether or not it makes sense for what has become a growing fanbase that has really expanded beyond the core that very much lives and understands in this world of international football formats.”


Like everyone throughout the soccer world, Garber awoke Thursday morning to the news of more arrests in the latest FIFA scandal, and the MLS commissioner is hoping to use his position to help ensure incidents like Thursday’s become few and far between.

Garber told media on Thursday that he has partnered with the heads of several of the world’s top leagues to help form a committee to bring out what Garber says is the “90 percent” of good that surrounds the game of soccer. Hoping to have a strong voice in battling the corruption that has become such a major black spot on the sport, Garber is hoping that he, along with many other leauge leaders, can help to rid the game of the issues that have become a plague in recent years.

“We don’t get a chance to talk about these kinds of things publicly,” Garber said, “but I think, for me, the arrests in Zurich this morning demonstrate, once again, that there are two worlds of soccer. It’s the game that’s played on the field and it’s the scandals that exist with the governance of this sport at many levels.

“As we think ‘how does this affect us going into the weekend?’, we’ll celebrate the best of our league and the best of our sport at our Cup and nothing is going to diminish our excitement with our 20th MLS Cup and the celebration of where we’ve been for the last 20 years.”


  1. Make a commitment to expand to 28 teams and then shut it off. Get Sacramento, San Antonio, St. Louis, and possibly Charlotte on board then stop expanding. From there, divide into a 14-team Western League and 14-team Eastern League with teams pretty much playing the majority of the schedule within their league to cut down on the travel that top European players complain about as well as a huge overhead for the league itself. Schedule a couple interleague games such as RBNY v LA Galaxy to complete the schedule. Top 5 teams in each league make a playoff with 4v5 wildcard. Two remainng teams from each league play for MLS cup.

    • Love it. Although if I were king for a day I’d make two changes.
      1. Go to 32-36 teams in the league eventually.
      2. Have no interleague games during the regular season to allow for true regular season winners in each.

  2. “Garber went on to confirm that the San Jose Earthquakes do have rights over the market that Sacramento would fall into” – okay because so many Quakes fans drive two hours each way on game day?.. and only NY and LA are allowed to two teams in the same “market”?.. Don – you have done wonders for MLS but holding back soccer in this country to fit it to your NFL style growth plan is ludicrous.

  3. I would like to see MLS adopt a domestic player rule. Something small, say 2 or 3 players should start every game. For teams that choose to use more, they would receive additional allocation money. A limit of three additional counting players, calculated by half season, applied for the immediate sequential half season. This would further stimulate growth in the domestic game and increase the need to develop players.

  4. It’s time to start considering breaking MLS into two divisions – MLS1 and MLS2, with Pro/Rel between them. I know Garber (who I like) has dismissed it, but I think it’s the best way forward when they expand past 24.

    • players, coaches, fans all want that – and its still a very controlled single entity situation – but the owners refuse to do anything but put their foot in their mouth and talk down to the media calling the plan stupid. they want a MLS-AAA baseball type relationship

    • While I agree that should eventually be discussed, we are still a long way from that. You would need nearly 40 teams total(at least 36) to think about doing that. Moving MLS from 24 to 36 teams in a sustainable, intelligent way will take years, maybe decades.

    • With what – penalties at the end of every game? No thanks. Deciding anything on penalties should be avoided as much as possible. That’s why away goals is a good rule.

  5. Its sad that he states Sacramento had not been on their “Priority list”. Sacramento has had a site identified and the stadium in the works for awhile. They are farther ahead than Miami, LA, NYFC & Minnesota on a stadium being built. I get that there is more to what cities they want, but that statement just makes them sound likethey didn’t really do their homework??

  6. MLS players need to get paid more if US soccer is going to improve. So at least one cheer for the league. But does anyone in touch with reality think that total spending on salaries is the test of soccer management? Europe is filled with soccer clubs that regularly give new meaning to the phrase “mismanagement” simply because they overspend and overspend and overspend.

    • But MLS is vastly different from European clubs. MLS has a salary cap which means teams are mismanaged by paying the wrong players too much money which has implications across your entire roster. MLS needs to increase the cap to be more inline with revenues so they can compete with Liga MX and some lower European Leagues on player salaries for roster positions 12-18 to improve the depth of each team. The quality of MLS soccer has come a long way, now they need to build the depth of each roster. The Management of MLS rosters is more about finding the right players to play and how it affects the rest of your Roster. Players like Robbie Keane are well worth the investment as they improve your team, while Jozy is receiving a large salary for limited production. LA is a well managed team and are currently sorting out Gonzales and his DP salary, they know he is not worth DP money. NYCFC is currently mismanaged in their roster decisions and they expectations for the club. Perhaps Philly will be better managed with Earnie Stuart at the helm. Mismanagement is not just about spending too much it’s about finding the proper balance. MLS is not going away from a salary cap.

      • Here’s a hint. Your reply would seem a bit more intelligent if you read the original comment. Garber said that the total spent on salaries was proof of the league’s progress — which is, of course, complete nonsense. Most leagues, in fact, a great many individual clubs spend more than MLS on salaries. And yet many of them are woefully mismanaged and unsuccessful.

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