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Don Garber aims to be ‘smart’, ‘careful’ with MLS expansion

Photo by Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports
Photo by Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports

Don Garber sees a light at the end of the expansion tunnel, but the MLS commissioner is making sure the league approaches that light in a deliberate manner.

Speaking to reporters at Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup finale, Garber said that the league continues to focus on 28 teams but is making sure not to rush towards that number. As things stand, Minnesota United and Atlanta United are set to push MLS’ ranks to 22 in 2017 before Los Angeles FC joins the league one year later.

Meanwhile, Garber hinted at the league’s ongoing troubled with what is supposed to be MLS’ 24th team, David Beckham’s Miami project. As Beckham’s group continue to face hurdle after hurdle in securing their place in the league, Garber says the league will take the process slowly with each and every expansion market.

“I go to sleep at night continually thinking that we should not make the mistakes of the NASL or other leagues who have expanded too quickly, so it would be a shame to take our eye off of that ball,” Garber said. “But I don’t think we’re at that point yet. As you know, it’s 28 teams for us. We’re a long way from 28, still haven’t finalized our 24th team. So that gives us five more teams to fill over the next however many years.

“When I look at what’s happening across the U.S. for the most part, because I think we’re fully expanded in Canada, and you see markets like Austin and San Antonio and San Diego and St. Louis and Sacramento and Las Vegas and Cincinnati, these are big cities that have fans that already are engaged with the sport on some level professionally,” he added. “I don’t know how we don’t provide these fans and owners and municipalities the opportunity to be involved in MLS. We’ve got to be smart about it, careful about it.”

MLS recently announced the roster-building rules that will be utilized by the upcoming expansion sides as Minnesota United and Atlanta United begin to build their squads ahead of their debut seasons.


  1. I actually think Don Garber has this right. 28 is a big number of teams and even adding the 4-5 more teams to get there over the next 10 years is a big accomplishment. Yes we all want pro / rel but we currently do not have the resources, players, fans, and dollars to support it. Notice that Marseille was just purchased by Frank McCourt, why? Buying into MLS at $100 million or more per franchise is a large investment. Let’s get 28 teams, have the teams get Soccer stadiums, increase the salary cap, get a bigger TV contract and then talk about pro / rel in the late 2020’s. At that point with soccer still on the rise perhaps a few other investors will see the opportunity in growing in the markets which are not selected by MLS and buy into NASL or some other league. Pro / Rel can come along like the NFL / AFL merger. And for all of you that want Pro / Rel now please realize that the NY Cosmos would be an MLS team NOW! and playing at Hofstra! While I do not have anything against the Cosmos and hope they are able to built their own SSS at Belmont (because this will put more pressure on MLS and give more credibility to NASL) I think the Cosmos are a sleeping giant and can grow. MLS is still a growing league and still pushing the boulder up hill. The hill is not as steep as it was in the late 90’s and they are almost at the top. Once they reach 28 teams MLS will be a Major league in America.

  2. Here’s hoping this isn’t a technique to box out the next few on the list the mid market Sacramento, San Antonio etc while he waits for another whale like Miami.

  3. MLS should stop allowing new clubs entry unless they have an actual stadium in place or actively being built – no more exceptions. Additionally, they need to stop building stadiums way out in the boonies and start paying the premium price to build in major cities to accommodate fans, and the fan experience.

    Piggy-backing off Adam M’s statement: Garber has made no secret that entrance fees for clubs have been one of the true revenue streams for current owners & the league, so why stop? Routinely, polls after polls validate, in this country, support and the clamoring for promotion/relegation. After all, MLS will never be the NFL and boosting MLS Cup as the decided “league champions” (ala Super Bowl Champions) renders the regular season extremely irrelevant – especially considering there’s discussion to expand the field even more than it’s already bloated expansion.

    So many minor tweaks the league could make to improve the appeal, improve the fan experience and make this league into something real. In it’s current state it’s far too plastic and trying way too hard to be the NFL…and unobtainable goal. Garber has done a tremendous job of ensuring the league doesn’t fold, but I look forward to someone who understands the sport – not just the business side, to take MLS to the next level.

    • I’d add that leaving big markets out of MLS by limiting the umbrella to 28 teams is an invitation for a different league to challenge them. A different league could have multiple NFL and/or MLB cities (e.g., big, healthy sports markets) without an MLS club, multiple existing MLS markets like Philly and Chicago with a downtown stadium now, and strong secondary markets. Think a core of Milwaukee, Charlotte, Indy, Cinci, Cleveland, Nashville, Detroit, San Diego, Jacksonville, San Fran, Tampa, St. Louis, Austin, Vegas, San Antonio, Raleigh-Durham, West Palm, etc. Is MLS really going to leave all of those top 40 markets and more for other customers?

      • Agree. They do that and they’re begging to get backdoored by NASL or some new competitor.

        MLS does not own grassroots growth of soccer in this country; they’re only trying to profit from it. It’s the rise of soccer popularity in this country that is driving growth of MLS, not the other way around.

        They cap at 28, the demographics say they’ll be capping well before the popularity of the support comes close to its peak. New clubs will continue to be founded, in non-MLS and even MLS cities, and if MLS just closes up shop at 28 a rival league will just get built around them.

        Garber doesn’t control things, and when he talks like he does, I start questioning his IQ. He may have NFL on the brain but Holy Mother is that idiotic…if you really examine the actual football pyramid in this country, yes, it’s artificially capped at just 32 NFL teams…with a massive college football pyramid under it that comprises 127 teams in FBS, and another 200+ in smaller colleges below that. If soccer is capable of similar growth – and again, the projected growth says it is – then capping at 28 is suicide because every team that is founded outside of that will be yet another one not in MLS’s umbrella, with a vested interest in not being limited by Garber’s artificial cap. MLS could easily find itself on a very lonely, isolated island, with its myriad competitors crying “monopoly!” and successfully petitioning for parallel first-division status from the USSF. The USSF ain’t dumb; they won’t protect a cartel in the face of antitrust suits.

        Garber doesn’t own soccer in the US. He’s just the head man of the current biggest league, and that’s all.

      • The five most valuable sports leagues in the world, by revenue are 1) NFL, 2) MLB, 3) NBA, 4) Premier League, 5) NHL. Clearly the closed sports league limited to 20 – 32 markets (yes, even in a huge country like the USA) seems to be working quite well. MLS can cap at 32 teams and it’s doubtful another major league will rise to challenge them in the US and Canada. The NASL is trying, but isn’t even coming close.

      • What’s your NFL argument Quozzel? Should the NFL expand to 50-100 teams because there’s a large college pyramid beneath them? Right now 99.9% of those college players couldn’t crack an NFL roster. Just because the sport is popular and people watch college football, for a myriad of reasons, should the NFL be a 100 team league with greatly diluted talent? Clearly there’s a global pool of soccer talent, but just because soccer is popular at the grassroots level doesn’t mean every community or large TV market warrants a major league team.

    • i totally agree with everything you said, and am glad that people are finally starting to questions the decisions made at the top. Garber is not a soccer guy, he’s a business guy, that’s what he was when he was with the NFL and that’s what is now. There’s nothing wrong with that, and in fact was very helpful when MLS was struggling, but now that MLS, and soccer in general, has solidified its spot in American culture it is time for a soccer person to take over. People need to realize that the US is a soccer nation, its been for years. Americans love soccer, they just don’t care much about MLS and that is the biggest problem and will continue to be a problem until there is a change at the top and new ideas are brought up. And that includes US Soccer. Another thing, when I feel a bigger connection to Barcelona, a club from across the Atlantic, than to any of the local franchises in MLS shows you how much we still have to go.

      • I’ve never seen a ‘promotion / relegation’ poll, Old School. Please produce one. Thanks.

        …sticking with that theme, I’ve never seen “MTF” post on SBI in my 8 years of posting on this website. Perhaps that’s the reason you have never seen a poll on this very website no less.

        Please contribute more or pay closer attention. Thanks.

      • I’ve been reading Ives’ page for years, thanks. Haven’t seen a ‘Promotion / Relegation’ poll. Why don’t you do me a favor and find one online and link it here…that way you can educate me on the tens of people clamoring for it in the US. Regardless, it doesn’t matter. It will never, ever happen in North America in any meaningful way. Continue to follow the English and Spanish leagues and get over it.

      • I’ve been reading Ives’ page for years, thanks.

        Evidently not, but you already knew that. You haven’t earned the right to dictate a conversation or make requests that require me to put forth any further effort than I’ve provided. I do, regularly, provide such effort for those that actually stick around, contribute or bring something to the conversation.

        Your “thanks” condescension will be met equally and with silence until you properly educate yourself on the topic, actually contribute and do what you say you’ve done, but quite clearly haven’t: read the website/stories when they’re revealed.

        There’s been, at minimum, three polls in the last few years by SBI on the topic. Your ignorance on the topic and of the access provided by SBI is a personal issue I’m not here to help you on.

        Post less under “new” names, stop being disingenuous about actually reading the website for “years” or actually contribute instead of reading from the sidelines and I’ll consider you a participant worthy of discourse.

        Until then, take a lap. Thanks.

      • You are quite the tool, Old School. You know how long I’ve read a website based on my frequency of posting…quite a feat. I’ve earned the right to post here, as have you, simply by the fact that I breathe and have opposable thumbs. I’ve never posted on this site, on Empire of Soccer, or on Metrofanatic under any screen name other than MTF. Regardless of what you or your polls think, there will never be promotion / relegation in the United States. I’ll leave it at that…after just adding that you really are a sanctimonious prick. Have a good night.

      • Hey Old School! I found one!! October 2014 poll…two years old. Sadly, you can’t access the poll results any longer, so I wasn’t able to reduce my current level of ignorance. However looking at the 160 some odd comments, I don’t see an overwhelming desire for pro / rel or belief that it will ever happen here. Strangely, I can’t find your comments; I was so looking forward to your insight, and to properly educating myself so that I might become worthy of a dialogue with you. Some day. Take a lap my friend.

  4. I don’t know if he is talking NASL of the 60s, 70s and 80s or now?

    Either way, you are not going to have a successful league where the league spends too much and the same team wins every year.

    Not happening. MLS is charging $200 million to buy a franchise, because it offers the reverse.
    We all hope it expands quickly, in terms of money and teams, but it will be slower than one wants and more measured, but it will be faster than expected though too.

    Congrats to Don and the owners on that from those of us smart enough to enjoy it.

    • People don’t usually get rich by being stupid, and you are right why would anyone pay 200 million to join and then have someone who paid 50 million knock them out. For pro/rel to be a reality in the US you would need a new league to form with pro/rel set up as the future from the beginning. I love pro/rel in Europe, but am resigned that it will not happen in the US, despite our ethos of the American dream, US businesses are going to do whatever they can legally to limit competition to their product.

      • First of all, you are presuming the spread would be 4×1. Second, you are presuming that MLS wouldn’t mind if a media market like Columbus (31, which never paid a huge entry fee) got ousted from the top division in favor of, say, Detroit (13) or Charlotte (22) or even Cleveland (18). Sports business is mostly about increasing tv revenues after all. Third, you presume there wouldn’t be a balloon payment to soften the landing of relegated teams. So I don’t buy the argument that owners couldn’t figure out a way to make it work financially in what would still be a closed system.

    • MLS is charging $200 million per franchise because it has a monopoly on the first division. If you have complete control on a market then you can charge whatever you want for that product. Its called barriers of entry and it’s exactly whats holding the sport back in this country. Once you stop believing everything what the MLS media machine tells you you’ll start to notice that whats best for MLS is not necessarily best for US soccer.

  5. Garber’s vision should include expanding MLS outside of a first division closed system. There should be an opportunity for teams to buy into an MLS second and third division at lower fees and win their way up. The MLS umbrella should probably have 56-60 teams eventually (e.g., 28 A, 14 B, 14 C). It won’t be an entirely open system as some would want, but it would allow for pro/rel and would allow continued growth for many years to come. Stopping at 28 would leave many big markets/cities unserved, would not allow for growth due to demographic shifts, and would not create the incentives you want to push owners to win.

      • There would be no anti-trust issue. MLS got sued in the 90s and defended the single entity in court arguing the international aspect of the employment market. A lower level system in the U.S. is irrelevant to competition (also see every other major league sports league in the U.S. as an example).

    • So if I’m a potential owner why would I even consider buying into MLS1 when I can presumably buy into their 2nd or 3rd division at a reduced investment cost and work my way up? Promotion / relegation does not work in the current single entity, US franchise environment. And highly doubtful if it would exist in England, Italy, etc., today if their leagues were just starting up. It’s a relic. People also keep bringing up this faux pro / rel among a future MLS 1, 2, and 3…why bother? Meaningless. I think what people most want is the end of year excitement generated by pro / rel, and American leagues generate the excitement by playoff races. It’ll never happen here.

  6. Don, just don’t stop until there is an expansion side in Barrow, Alaska. We need to cover all of our bases to spread the game, not just the lower 48.


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