Kick Off: Beckham, expansion hot topics in State of League

Kick Off - Don Garber (September 2011)

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MLS Commissioner Don Garber set a record on Monday, holding court with an unprecedented number of reporters for nearly an hour-and-a-half during his yearly State-of-the-League address.

As you might expect with a conversation of that length, there was plenty to talk about in the aftermath, including the announcement of the 2012 MLS Best XI.

The Sporting News summed up the main points succinctly and clearly here, or you can listen to the full audio of the call. Without further adieu, let's jump into the nitty-gritty.

Concerning a second team in the New York City area, Garber reiterated that the launch date for any potential franchise remains 2016 and said he expects having an additional presence in the metro area will help "break through the clutter" and integrate MLS into the city's sporting fabric.

But what about markets in play after NYC?

Garber did not set out a timeline after the 20th team in New York City, but emphasized that any expansion bid into the southeast -- specifically Atlanta or Orlando -- would require a stadium. No surprise there. He also addressed the continuing efforts to build soccer-specific stadiums in D.C. and Boston. The verdict? Works in progress, but much of the progress is encouraging.

Speaking of works in progress, Garber mentioned that he believed that Toronto would be making "some bold moves" to improve their on-the-field product. The first came Monday, when TFC announced they had exercised the option on Designated Player Eric Hassli's contract to keep the Frenchman in Ontario.

On the other side of the player equation, it's clear youth development remains an important theme in the coming years. The Homegrown initiative hasn't developed many starters around the league, mostly because players plucked from academies have had trouble earning playing time, but Garber said owners have been at least "talking about the concept of mandatory play for young players."

That would be a major change -- one mirroring a similar plan implemented in Mexico -- if it were to happen. One thing that's not changing is the flood of young MLS prospects to Europe during the offseason to train. New York's Connor Lade is the latest, and the Colorado Rapids' Steward Ceus appears to be right behind him.

Another aspect of the league that won't be changing in MLS is the competition format, although Garber said he hoped the 2013 MLS Cup Playoffs would include longer breaks between games.

And, of course, we'd be remiss not to round up the discussion of David Beckham's role in the development of MLS and his future ownership options as he prepares for his Galaxy swansong. Garber said Beckham has been invaluable, but emphasized that MLS doesn't need the English superstar today like it did in 2007. And as for ownership options? Anywhere but New York City.

Beckham and LA are heavily favored against Houston in MLS Cup on Dec. 1 (4:30 pm ET; ESPN, TeleFutura, TSN/RDS in Canada), and the numbers never lie. Well, not intentionally, at least.

Meanwhile, the chatter about the English midfielder's future continues. PSG striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic had a message that could be enough to lure Beckham: "We can win the Champions League over the next two seasons with the team that is being built."

Wigan Athletic won't be in the running for the Champions League, but they will likely have some MLS flavor come 2013. Sporting KC's Roger Espinoza appears close to sealing his move to the English Premier League.

SKC's season ended at the hands of the Houston Dynamo, who have plans to smear the entire South with orange after yet another banner year for the franchise.

Have Vancouver found a solution to their own Homegrown frustrations? It seems Edmonton might just be the place for young 'Caps prospects in need of seasoning.

Chicago's Austin Berry got his seasoning in MLS as a rookie thanks to a season-ending injury to Cory Gibbs. On Monday, Gibbs announced that his knees will no longer allow him to play the game as a professional.

And last but certainly not least, former Philadelphia Union head coach Peter Nowak appears close to landing a new job. Reports say Nowak could be offered the role of sporting director with the Polish Football Association.