By FRANCO PANIZO
HARRISON, N.J. — MLS Commissioner Don Garber held an informal press conference at halftime of the U.S. men's national team friendly with Ecuador Tuesday night, and he discussed a bevy of topics, including MLS scheduling and expansion.
The first thing Garber touched on were the comments made recently by U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. The German-born coach believes the MLS season is not long enough to compete with nations around the world, and that it needs to be prolonged in order to help American players be competitive at the sport's top level.
"Listen, Jurgen's right, season's too short," said Garber. "I'd love to able to have global warming to take its effect and have the weather in our country change and be able to have a longer season. But I think our fan base is developing and we will have Saturday night 56,000 people in Seattle. That's not something we would've dreamed of two years ago.
"I think the time will come (when) we'll be able to spread our season out a little bit. I appreciate Jurgen's support, I know that Dan (Flynn, CEO/Secretary General of U.S. Soccer) and Sunil (Gulati, president of USSF) have been really engaged with Jurgen to have him supportive of the league. He's coming into the office tomorrow to meet with me and (MLS executives) Nelson (Rodriguez) and Todd Durbin and we're going to sit down and talk about how we can grow the game together."
With MLS ending in two weeks, Garber also addressed the league's current playoffs system, which has drawn heavy scrutiny ever since it was announced.
"I think it's what, seven teams that are still in the hunt. I think our playoff format has been very exciting," said Garber. "I know we got a lot of criticism for adding our play-in games, but at the end of the day, pro sports in America are driven by the excitement of their playoffs leading into a championship game. Having that, experiencing that with MLS this season, I'm very excited for it. i know our fans are; our television ratings are going up, so I think that speaks for itself."
Garber was also asked at length about MLS expansion, and how the search for a 20th team in New York City is going. The commissioner responded by saying strides have been made.
"The city has been supportive. We really appreciate the support of the Mayor's office," said Garber. "I've got two or three investors prospects in my box tonight. If we can build a stadium, we're going to have a 20th team in New York City. But we've got a lot of work before we get that stadium built."
One team that's been heavily linked with that coveted 20th spot is the New York Cosmos. But Garber said that the Cosmos have some wrinkles to iron out before being taken more seriously.
"We talk to them. I don't know that they're involved. They've got some things that they're trying to work out within their ownership group, but I've said many times I applaud what they've been doing," said Garber. "They're doing a great job building their brand, and when we're ready to get that team launched, if they want to be a part of it, we'll be happy to talk to them."
Garber also emphasized the importance of getting a stadium (preferably soccer-specific) in place for the potential second New York team.
"At the end of the day, we've got to get a stadium built. I believe that we'll be able to get that done," said Garber. "I feel better about it now than I have at any other point, but we've got a lot of work to do. It's a difficult market to get projects developed, as evidenced by how long it took to get Red Bull Arena built."
Garber later added: "We get a stadium built, we'll have no problem getting an ownership group for that team, so whether it's one group or it's a combination of groups, the stadium is the key to a second team in New York."
As for a location of a newly-constructed stadium? Queens seems to be a primary candidate in the commissioner's eyes.
"Queens would be great. It'd (be) great to have a stadium in Flushing Meadows (Corona) Park or to have it somewhere around Citi Field, but Randall's Island is a prospect that we've been spending a little more time looking at, so I think it will ultimately come to fruition," said Garber. "The question to me is, 'How long is it going to take and how much patience do we have?'"
Asked what other options there are for the league in terms of expansions, Garber responded by saying that the league could just sit and wait until the perfect fit comes along.
"Things are going well with the league, so we're not in a rush," said Garber. "We don't need to do it, I've said that many times before. I think in the past, starting in '05, we needed to expand. We don't need to expand now, we want to with the right owner, the right facility and the right market, so we'll do it when the time is right."
As much as the league wants a second team in the New York market, Garbed admitted that isn't the be-all, end-all in terms of expansion.
"We could only be committed to if we can get the deal done. We want it to happen," said Garber. "If we can get it done in a reasonable period of time, then we're going to go down a path to really focus on New York as a priority. But if we can't get it done, we'll continue to look at all those other markets that have been noisy about soccer, whether that's all the ones I've mentioned in the past, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Miami."
What do you think of Garber's comments towards the MLS schedule needing to be longer? Agree that the playoffs system has been exciting? Happy/disappointed that the league is so set on making New York the 20th team?
Share your thoughts below.