Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber on Wednesday highlighted the importance of Columbus Crew Stadium -- the first large-scale soccer-specific stadium in the USA -- in the future development of the sport in the country.
Speaking in Columbus as the starters for the Sierra Mist MLS All-Star Game were announced, Garber participated in a roundtable discussion with area media while in the Ohio capital. The All-Star Game is set for July 30 in Columbus (3:30 p.m. ET; ABC Sports).
"One of the key strategies for our league in the last number of years and for years to come is the construction of soccer-specific stadiums. That word in the English language was defined here in Columbus when (Crew investor/operator) Lamar (Hunt) built Crew Stadium in 1999," Garber said. "From a business and a presentation perspective, celebrating the game in an intimate environment that is legitimately purposed for our sport is a very important strategy for us."
Garber also took the opportunity to state the importance of the Crew in the success of MLS.
"It is an opportunity for us in our 10th season to bring what we think will be our best All-Star Game ever to a city and a market that has been so crucial to the development of soccer in this country," said Garber. "Soccer is very strong in the state of Ohio. This is a growing and vibrant city and has become a growing sports city. We believe our success and future growth in Columbus is an important part to the foundation of the sport in this country.
The MLS All-Stars will face Fulham FC in the All-Star Game. Garber pointed out the Premiership side will not be treating the match lightly.
"This is not a summer trip for Fulham. They start the Premiership season in two weeks after the game," said Garber. "They will play against the Crew in a scrimmage (July 27) as well."
With the match in Columbus, the selection of Fulham made sense since they employ former Crew standout Brian McBride.
"We thought Fulham would be a good game because Brian has been an important guy in the history of our league. To bring Brian home to Columbus where he has had such a great history and helped contribute to this sport and this market was important to us," said Garber. "We could have picked a wide variety of teams and we thought they were a team that made sense. Carlos Bocanegra played on our Chicago Fire team and will also be coming home to the Midwest."
Commissioner Garber pointed to a key and legendary occasion at Crew Stadium as the sort of occurrence that Major League Soccer has laid the foundation for in soccer in USA - on a number of levels.
"One of the most important soccer events in the history of our country was the USA-Mexico match in February of 2001. I remember standing on the sidelines with Lamar Hunt and Ivan Gazidis. I was wearing a winter coat," said Garber. "I saw the Mexican team walk out wearing gloves and shivering. I said, 'I think we got them.' That win helped out the national team get the momentum to Korea-Japan and the quarterfinal achievement in that World Cup."
Under his watch, Garber hopes to turn such international success into success for MLS squads on the international club level.
"It is about getting our teams to play against top international clubs and to prove that we can stand toe-to-toe against any team in the world. We showed that we can stand toe-to-toe against the Germans in the quarterfinals -- by the way, we almost won that game if Tony Sanneh's headed ball had not hit the post," said Garber. "We need to take that down from the national level and do it at the club level. The first start is at the all-star level and have our best players play against a team that wants to win."
Garber fielded questions from the assembled media on a variety of topics, including player acquisitions in the MLS system, expansion direction and All-Star roster selection processes. One of the more exciting areas regarded a new direction in youth development.
"This is the last untapped frontier of soccer around the world. International clubs go all over the world to try to mine talent. It doesn't do us any good if clubs come here, set up academies, and every young player goes over to England, Italy, Spain, or Holland. We either have to do it with them, on our own, or cede the market to them. We are not going to cede the market to anyone," said Garber.
"We have just given our teams the right to go out, set up academies, and keep the rights to those players from a developmental perspective. It is something that we are working out the details. We need to get our teams to go out and take responsibility to for developing the game here in this market."
John Kuhn is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.