At three different points of the year MLS Commissioner Don Garber makes the big time media rounds and talks about the future of Major League Soccer. Tonight's All-Star Game is one of those times. MLS is getting really good, despite all the times they are the brunt of jokes, at getting exposure. This week they've done the traditional morning shows, as well as hosted a series of events throughout Manhattan.
One of the most frequent questions Garber gets is about the growth of MLS. From non-soccer media the question is when will MLS be big in North America? While from soccer media it is a question about when the League will be big compared to the rest of the world. The Newark Star-Ledger got this answer from him;
"When we were going through the bidding process, we said, ‘What do we really want to achieve if we get the (2022) World Cup?’ " the MLS commissioner told The Star-Ledger. "One of the first things that came out of that plan was we want Major League Soccer to become one of the top leagues in the world by 2022. That’s still our goal.
"We believe that over the next 10 years, if we continue to be smart, focused and innovative, that our league can compete with the other leagues around the world 10 years from now. It’s not next year but, ultimately, if we keep focused and continue to manage our strategy properly, we should be able to stand toe-to-toe against anybody. America does not want to be second-best."
This isn't your dad's MLS 1.0 anymore, with its falling attendance through it's first five seasons, odd rules and cavernous stadiums. This isn't even MLS 2.0 where those things were corrected (stable attendance at about 15,000). This is a different beast, and while David Beckham and Toronto FC may have ushered it in, it is about more than just they.
MLS 3.0 is about having up to 3 Designated Players per squad. Not just guys like Thierry Henry and Beckham, but young stars who will use the league as a stepping stone to global fame, at least that's the goal for some. But that isn't the only thing that makes this current era of MLS exciting.
There's Cascadia, as well as other cities where their soccer stadiums aren't tiny plots with just bleachers for seating (sorry Columbus, and thank you for starting the SSS wave). In fact within the next year 3 more stadiums will open in San Jose, Houston and Montreal.
The Academies and Home Grown Players, though in their infancy really are already producing talent with more than 40 players who have trained with professional coaches already signing into MLS. Players like Juan Agudelo, Chris Cortez, and Keven Aleman are a symbol of what these programs can mean.
Sure, Garber is puffing things up a bit, but the trend looks good during his reign. Expansion has helped, but no longer does MLS pay a television network to be on the air, instead having several multimillion dollar per year contracts in the USA and Canada. He's also right when he says the change won't happen overnight.
But we do know it is changing, and for the better. No longer are there painted concrete floors with early AstroTurf. Only five years ago was the first every full-time professional referee added to America. The TV coverage talks less and less about atmosphere, replacing that with chatter about the game being played - you know, like other major sports.
The new financial rules should help keep talent rather than losing players like Stuart Holden for nothing, Freddy Adu for a mere 2 Million and Jozy Altidore for 10 Million. With rosters built from the base through Academies, supplemented through the draft and discovery claims and then polished off with a few Designated Players this league looks nothing like it did when it launched.
The trend in MLS is good.