(WFI) Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber says the yearly tinkering that comes hand-in-hand with new teams is “frustrating as hell” but that MLS expansion will go on for the foreseeable future.
Garber spoke at length Tuesday about the growth of MLS during his annual state of the league address, growth he insisted would pause after the likely addition of a resurrected New York Cosmos in 2013.
“I don’t know when it will be when we go beyond 20, but I think at some point in our lifetime there will be more than 20 teams in MLS,” he said during the conference call with reporters.
“It’s a big country. We cross [four] time zones. … But we have a long way to go before we even can consider that.”
The league will hit 18 teams next season with the addition of the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps FC. The Montreal Impact will follow in 2012, making the Cosmos lucky number 20.
But a second New York-area club is not a certainty for the coveted expansion franchise.
Garber confirmed he’s still in talks with Atlanta and has received interest from Orlando, Tampa, Miami and San Diego before suggesting the allure of a two-team market will be tough to pass up.
“If you’re a soccer fan you know that’s a big part of being a passionate supporter,” he said in reference to the budding Seattle vs Portland vs Vancouver rivalries as well as the potential for a Red Bulls vs Cosmos match-up.
“While we have been very focused on broadening our footprint here and in Canada, we do believe that we need to have more rivalries, and that second team in New York will help us do that.”
Garber added that an MLS team in the Southeastern U.S. is only a matter of time.
“I can’t imagine this will be a league when all is said and done that does not have teams in the south,” he said.
“We have to. The question is when that might be.”
The Tampa Bay Mutiny was one of the league’s
original 10 but disbanded after the 2001 season, as did 1998 expansion franchise Miami Fusion F.C.
Amidst the current growth climate, any further contraction seems unlikely. So too, Garber suggested, does relocation.
“Every sports league tries to avoid team moves at all costs, and it is not at all a priority for us to move any of our existing teams,” he said. “We’re going to do everything we can to work with those clubs that are not performing as well as they’d like to do better.”
Expansion challenges ahead
Garber’s steady march to 20 teams is not without difficulty, however.
MLS announced in mid-September a 34-game schedule for 2011 to make room for the Timbers and Whitecaps.
The 30-game season played this year allowed for each of the league’s 16 teams to play each other both home and away. Whether that symmetry will be preserved for 2011 and beyond remains up in the air.
Garber admitted to the reality that MLS rules could change during each of the next three off-seasons.
“We’re going to have the ability to be balanced [in 2011]. We will not be able to be balanced in 2012. We’ll have the ability to be balanced again in 2013 if New York comes in,” the commissioner explained.
“Our choices are to keep the system that’s not working or to continue to tinker with it until it’s finalized.”
MLS will choose this weekend whether to maintain or abandon a balanced schedule for next season, a decision Garber said could go either way. The board meeting comes ahead of Sunday evening’s MLS Cup between FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids at Toronto’s newly renovated BMO Field.
Also unclear from September’s announcement and Tuesday’s teleconference is whether a still-longer season will come hand-in-hand with teams 19 and 20 as well as whether a bigger league demands a different playoff format.
“We’ve got to be brave enough to know that we’re still in the middle of the process,” Garber said.
“We’ve got to continue to evolve, and I believe we’ll settle on a permanent system sometime in the next probably three to five years but probably not before then.
“It’s frustrating as hell.”
By INSIDER’s North American correspondent Matthew Grayson
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