VANCOUVER – Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber on Sunday stated that he is a proponent of a change in the format of the MLS Cup title match.
MLS Cup has been hosted by a neutral venue since the league’s inception in 1996 – this year at The Home Depot Center on November 20 -- but Garber says there is “lots of talk” to have a higher seed play host to a championship game. He addressed media gathered for a pre-game event at the Vancouver Whitecaps’ first match in newly renovated BC Place in downtown Vancouver.
“I, for one, am a supporter of it,” Garber said. “We’ve gotten to the point in our league where our fans on short notice would support their club and attend a championship game even if they had only two or three days to buy tickets for that match. Years ago we wouldn’t have been able to contemplate that when we weren’t convinced the support was there to sell out a stadium for a championship game. Now I have no doubt we could. I think it’d be fun for the fans. I’m a big proponent of it.”
Although there is no timeline on a potential change in the format for the title match, Garber did hint once more that the new league schedule for 2012 – which he said would be released a lot earlier than last season -- will likely not be balanced and instead the league may adopt a format that “can take advantage of a number of key rivalries.”
Garber also addressed questions about the current playoff format, one which he says has made a positive impact on the regular season with the introduction of the wild card play-in spots.
“The race this year has been terrific,” he said. “We received some criticism for the play-in games, but we’re going right down to the wire. We don’t have a Supporters’ Shield champion yet with a couple of games left. Every game matters and there’s a lot of passion. I think the playoff format has been great.”
Sunday’s match between the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps -- won 1-0 by Portland -- was another one of those matches that count. The three points put the Timbers tied on points with New York for the 10th and final playoff spot. The Red Bulls, however, hold the edge due to a better head-to-head record (one win, one draw) .
The Whitecaps-Timbers Cascadia Cup clash featured a loud traveling contingent of 500 Timbers Army supporters seated in one of the top corners of BC Place. That’s a number that could change if the teams agreed on it, with Garber indicating that “it’s not something that the league would have any objection to” if it did not present operations, logistical or security issues.
“These teams came together and came up with that number and it’s working pretty well,” Garber said of the 500 traveling supporters agreed upon for 2011 by the Vancouver Whitecaps, Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders.
Garber was in town to join in the festivities of the Whitecaps’ opening match at the refurbished BC Place in the heart of Vancouver. With the addition of new soccer staduims for the Montreal Impact and Houston Dynamo in 2012, the total number of soccer stadiums in MLS will reach 14. And the fact that BC Place was another downtown stadium for MLS was not lost on the league's commissioner.
“It’s what really every sport would like to have and we have it in a lot of cities,” he said. “It stimulates a lot of interest in our clubs.”