MLS Commissioner Don Garber delivered his State of the League address Friday at the Westin Hotel in Columbus, Ohio, focusing on the strides the league has made in the past 10 years and hinting at changes that may be on the horizon.
There was little in the way of concrete plans for expansion or rules changes in the commissioner's speech, and many of the areas he covered Friday have been touched on in recent comments. The commissioner did, however, say the next stage of the league's evolution could be in the offing, presenting an optimistic outlook on the future.
The first point Garber hit on was the potential to allow teams to retain the MLS rights of players developed through their youth ranks. The purpose, Garber said, would be to help the best young players gravitate toward MLS and provide more of an incentive for teams to develop the next set of MLS stars.
Garber also reiterated a statement he made earlier this summer, suggesting the MLS calendar could be split or shifted to bring it in line with the international soccer calendar. The league may also elect to take a month off in the summer to ease the strain on international players. Any change in the length or format of the MLS schedule, the commissioner noted, might not come about for several years.
"We will spend a great deal of time with our competition committee both this weekend as well as over the next couple of months, along with our board, to discuss these and other player competition initiatives for the 2006 MLS season," Garber said. "At the last MLS board meeting, competition was our primary focus. We're scheduled to meet again next month to discuss some major competition issues, with the goal of having a resolution by the MLS Cup in November."
On the expansion front, Garber did not announce any definite additions to the league, but confirmed the 2007 season is the target for the next round of expansion. His comments indicated that Toronto is at the top of the list of candidates.
"We were in Toronto yesterday to discuss the future of MLS in Canada," he said, adding that Houston, Cleveland, Milwaukee and St. Louis are also on the list. "Our ultimate goal is to be an 18-team league across the United States and Canada at some point in the future."
More international club competitions could also be on the horizon for the league, as Garber said there are discussions underway that could see MLS teams play in the Copa Libertadores, currently the South American club championship.
Garber spent a good portion of his time touting the growth of MLS from its infancy in 1996, when the idea of building soccer-specific stadiums had yet to be hatched and it was nearly impossible to find soccer on TV. Today, Garber said, MLS has a growing investor pool -- another group was added Thursday with the sale of D.C. United -- a handful of soccer-specific stadiums with more on the way and a growing presence on the U.S. sports landscape.
Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder and MLS All-Star Landon Donovan, in his remarks after Garber's speech, discussed the progress the league has made.
"From the day I got here until now, the league is 100 times better, competitively," Donovan said. "I would say in every aspect, in every way, we've gotten better."
Jason Halpin is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.