Commissioner Don Garber in Montreal
Courtesy of Montreal Impact

Commissioner hopeful for record reception in Montreal

MONTREAL — First Kick 2012 is approaching fast for the Montreal Impact management team and, while MLS Commissioner Don Garber does recognize there’s still a lot of work to be done, he does not sound the least bit worried.

Garber was one of two keynote speakers – the other was Impact owner Joey Saputo – at a luncheon organized by the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal on Wednesday. The Commissioner, who was treated to a standing ovation after his address, took every opportunity to praise Saputo and his work to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to Montreal.

“Joey Saputo and his team have been doing a great job, they’re really focused and energized,” Garber told reporters after the luncheon. “They’ve been working hard with the league and other clubs to learn from some of the challenges that teams have had to face. MLS has felt a great, open-arms welcoming feeling here in this city.”

Garber and Saputo are hopeful this feeling will translate into a record: The Impact and the league look to sell more than 58,000 tickets for the club’s home opener against the Chicago Fire on March 17, effectively selling out Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. In the process, they would produce one of the highest attendances in league history.

The Commissioner made it public himself that the Impact have sold more than 32,000 tickets for that game so far.

But it wasn’t all about business. Reflecting on MLS’ efforts to improve the USA and Canada national teams, Garber insisted on the league’s commitment to developing the next generation of players in both countries. And for the Commissioner, it all starts with investments in the communities.

“As clubs invest in player development and academies, young kids will have the aspiration to play for their local team,” he explained during the luncheon. “Here in Canada, our big goal is to have our teams in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal develop those players who will help Canada qualify for the World Cup.”

Garber also praised the international nature of Canada – “This is a country that truly is made up of every country from around the world” – which personifies, in his view, soccer’s egalitarian nature. North Americans have started to grow up following the beautiful game, he observed, and that can only lead to a bright future for MLS.

“At the end of the day, our goal is to be one of the top soccer leagues in the world," he said. "And we believe it’s an achievable goal."