Gazidis discusses expansion, future

Major League Soccer's rosters will expand for the 2005 season, deputy commissioner Ivan Gazidis said during a media roundtable Sunday morning at The Home Depot Center. Team rosters, the league's 2005 expansion and the recently announced MLS reserve league dominated the discussion.

Gazidis attended the discussion with commissioner Don Garber, Club Deportivo Chivas USA investor-operator Antonio Cue and Real Salt Lake investor-operator Dave Checketts, and Gazidis' areas of expertise were the hot topics.

Roster sizes will change in three key areas in 2005. Overall rosters will expand from 24 to 28, and the number of international players allowed per team will also increase. The rule that holds the number of transitional internationals to 20 league-wide, while not restricting the number of such players on each team, will cease to exist. Instead, teams will be held to three transitional internationals, and the limit on senior internationals will increase from three to four. Those transitional international spots are eligible to be traded among teams.

Another wrinkle in the roster limits for the next couple of years is that both 2005 expansion teams, Club Deportivo Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake, will be allowed to have an additional two youth international spots for their first two years in the league, at which point they will fall in line with the rest of the league.

Gazidis said the increase in international spots, apart from the expansion exception, is not designed specifically to accommodate CD Chivas USA, whose ownership has a tradition, through sister Club Deportivo de Guadalajara, of only signing Mexican players.

"We are seeking to increase the number of international players and to change around a little bit the way the system works," Gazidis said. "I imagine that people may believe that it's something to do with Chivas. It actually isn't. (With next year's expansion) we're going to have to have an expansion in our player pool of about 40 percent.

"We need to be sure that we have the sources of those players. I believe that we have those resources in this country, and we need to do a good job of accessing and developing players out of the United States. But I also think we owe an obligation to our fans and to the league to make sure that during the transition period, that we continue to put a top-level product on the field."

The primary reason for the roster changes is MLS' recently announced reserve league. MLS revealed its plans for the new league in conjunction with its announcement of a 10-year partnership with adidas, a deal commissioner Don Garber said today is worth $150 million.

Much has yet to be settled regarding the reserve league, including most of the details of the competition, like where and when the reserve teams will play their games and whether the rules of play will be different from those of MLS. Gazidis did however say that he envisions the reserve teams playing about a dozen games in 2005 and increasing that number in the future.

Gazidis also hinted that the league might be opening its wallet a little wider in the near future. With a new collective bargaining agreement soon to be ratified by the MLS Players Union, salaries will naturally increase, and the growth of the league by two teams in 2005 will also expand the league's salary budget. While Gazidis declined to discuss any specifics regarding the CBA because it has not yet been ratified, he did say that increasing salaries is something the league would like to take on.

"We want to be a league that is spending more money on our players because that means that we're generating the revenue to support that expenditure," Gazidis said. "We're in a worldwide marketplace for players. The more we spend on our player pool, the better we're going to be able to compete with the international markets. Our desire is to spend more on players, but we can only do that in a way that's economically rational against our revenues."

Gazidis added that the new spending on players could start very shortly, with the league potentially making some intriguing purchases this offseason.

"I think you're going to see some interesting things this year," Gazidis said. "I think there will be some surprises for you over the next couple of months with respect to high-level players."

Representatives of both 2005 expansion teams discussed plans for their clubs, with Real Salt Lake investor-operator Dave Checketts talking about his vision for a soccer-specific stadium. Checketts said ideally there will be a soccer stadium built in downtown Salt Lake City in time for the start of the 2007 season, though the town of Murray, Utah has made an offer to be the club's hometown. Checketts added that he hopes to have a plan in place by the end of this year.

"If I had my first choice, I would build it right downtown and restore downtown as a place to be," Checketts said. "We're still working with (Salt Lake) Mayor Anderson and the city council in Salt Lake to see if that downtown option will ever come to fruition."

Jason Halpin is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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