Don Garber
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Garber to invite FIFA chief Blatter to MLS opening weekend

MLS Commissioner Don Garber is taking Sepp Blatter’s recent comments about the growth of soccer in America with a grain of salt. But he does have a message for the FIFA president:

Come see for yourself.

“I look forward to having the president and other FIFA executives attend an MLS game,” Garber told on Wednesday evening. “I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised to see how far the league has come.”

In an interview with Al Jazeera TV last week, Blatter said there is “no very strong professional league” in the United States and suggested that MLS should have grown to the stature of the National Football League and Major League Baseball in the 18 years since it was first founded in the lead-up to the 1994 World Cup.

Garber said he plans to invite Blatter – who has never attended an MLS match outside of the 1996 All-Star Game – to any of the nine matches of First Kick weekend on March 2-3. And if that doesn’t fit the FIFA boss’ schedule, to any game during the upcoming 2013 season.

“If he were to come to a game – whether it be in Seattle, Portland, Toronto, LA, Philadelphia, New York or any of our MLS markets ­– I think he would be very pleasantly surprised to see the passion that exists in our fan base and the high level of soccer IQ that exists in our fan base,” Garber said.

“He would be impressed by the quality of play and the quality of the stadiums, and the knowledge and commitment of our local media and national press. We here all should feel good about what has happened in America.”

LISTEN: Breaking down what Blatter meant on March to the Match

MLS shattered its own attendance records in 2012, boosted by big turnouts in places such as Seattle and Kansas City, and is among the top 10 leagues in the world in total attendance. Garber reiterated that the league’s goal is to become one of the top leagues in the world by 2022, despite Blatter’s evaluation.

“I’m totally convinced that by working together, we’ll be the league that everybody wants us to be,” he said. “Including him.”