VANCOUVER, B.C. — Visitors often remark about the views afforded in Vancouver. And the MLS Commissioner was no different: He likes what he sees.
During last week’s annual State of the League Address, Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber answered several questions from reporters related to the Vancouver Whitecaps. And it’s clear from his responses that he’s pleased with what the club has achieved off the field, and believes in their future potential on it.
“I know they were disappointed with how they ended up on the field, but that didn’t surprise us,” Garber said. “Coming into any pro sports league, it’s almost expected you’re going to have some competitive disadvantages being the last guys in. That being said, many people around the league believe they have a very, very strong team and will perform much better next year. They’ve got some very good players that are fun and exciting to watch.”
Despite finishing the season tied for the second-fewest points in MLS, the ‘Caps had encouraging performances. Camilo Sanvezzo led the team with 12 goals, while Eric Hassli followed close behind with 10 including a wonder strike against the Seattle Sounders on June 11. Davide Chiumiento notched nine assists, and in their second game at newly built BC Place, Vancouver shelled Western Conference finalists Real Salt Lake 3-0.
“BC Place really is a technological marvel,” Garber said. “If you haven’t been there, I encourage you to get up there. It’s the only stadium other than Eintracht Frankfurt’s stadium that has this unique roof system and it really is a place that – boy, if we’re able to replicate that system in other stadiums throughout our country, I think it can change our dynamic, both with our fans and the kinds of things we can do on the field.”
The Pacific Northwest has become one of the premier markets in MLS. Cascadia Cup competitors Vancouver, Seattle and the Portland Timbers are famed for the passion of their fan bases. With BC Place set to enjoy a full season next year as the home of the Whitecaps, things can only get better.
“I love going to Vancouver,” Garber said. “The experience that I have when I go to BC Place is something that warms my heart. [Co-owner] Greg Kerfoot is very smart, as are his partners. They love the game, they love the league, they love their city, they’ve made massive commitments to the Whitecaps and I have a lot of faith that things will be very, very positive long term in Vancouver.”
A big talking point during the teleconference was the 2012 schedule. The league’s decision to switch from a balanced schedule in which each team plays against each other home and away to an unbalanced schedule favored by most North American sports leagues has come under criticism from so-called “purists.” Those fans claim the integrity of the Supporters Shield is lost if teams don’t play each other an equal amount of times as is done in most soccer leagues worldwide.
Garber defended the league’s decision.
“We did some statistics on this, and I think you guys would be shocked to know the Whitecaps traveled almost 60,000 miles this year and the clubs on the lower end traveled around 30,000 miles,” Garber said. “Now, put that in perspective. A typical European club is traveling about 5,000 round-trip miles for their games, [Manchester United] 3,500 miles, Boca [Juniors], 5,400 miles. “
The Commissioner also downplayed the suggestion that playing more games against regional rivals would “dilute” the competitive derby spirits those encounters provoke.
“The more games we add, the more travel and impact it has on our players and therefore reduces the quality of our play,” Garber said. “Now I know fans like things a certain way because they’re watching the Premier League, but we live here in the United States and we have certain restrictions and facts of life we have to manage, too.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.