Growth & quality the major theme in Q&A session with MLS Commissioner Don Garber

Major League Soccer may just be embarking on the most highly anticipated season since David Beckham joined the league.

And ahead of Saturday’s opening day, MLS Commissioner Don Garber held a video Q&A session that, to no surprise, skewed heavily toward the growth of the league in terms of its quality and popularity, as well as expansion.

Fielding questions from both media and fans via Twitter, Garber touched on future expansion plans, the handful of international stars who joined the league in the offseason and the ultimate goal of MLS becoming one of the top leagues in the world.

Garber’s very first question, from a fan via Twitter, had to do with the specific metrics he uses to determine the quality of a league.

“Our ultimate goal is to become a league of choice,” Garber said.

He expanded by saying MLS will become a top league when it becomes the top choice for not only the world’s best players but also for fans. He said he’s already seeing that with the passion in markets like Kansas City, Portland, Salt Lake, Philadelphia and Toronto.

“Our teams are getting deeper and deeper into their communities,” he said. “They’re embedding themselves and trying to become relevant and culturally important.”

He also said that means improving the league’s financial standing.

“We’ve got to be in a situation where our clubs are making money and not losing money, so that we can continue to invest in this business and continue to build quality of play, relevance of teams and passion of our fans in a way where we ultimately achieve our goals,” Garber explained.

When asked about how the league has improved since he became commissioner in 1999, Garber recalled a recent lunch he shared with US national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann. Klinsmann cited the improvement in infrastructure, training grounds, sports science when it comes to nutrition and training and, most of all, the league’s supporters culture.

“The supporter culture has been a game changer for us,” Garber said.

And then there were the questions about expansion.

Garber was peppered with questions from media and fans from nearly every market making a push for a league franchise – and even some that aren’t.

Atlanta and the ongoing discussions the Blank family, owners of the NFL’s Falcons, were the focus.

“There’s a lot of activity there, massive demographic changes down there. We’re very excited about Atlanta,” Garber said, mentioning that the league has been in discussions with the Blanks on one level or another since 2008. “… It’s a market that needs the professional game at the highest level.”

He also touched on the efforts of San Antonio, saying the push by supporters of NASL franchise Scorpions is “incredible,” Sacramento, North Carolina, Minneapolis and even some more fringe markets such as Detroit and Cleveland also were addressed.

Here are some other highlights on the hour-long, wide-ranging Q&A session:

On the Homegrown rule and club academies devaluing the college game and SuperDraft: “No, I don’t think it’s diminishing the draft at all,” Garber said.

He did say that player development at the college and academy levels need to move toward a more unified theme with the goal of winning a World Cup.

“This is a dynamic that is evolving,” he said.

On the situation of Chivas USA, which the league recently purchased from former owners Jorge Vergara and Angelica Fuentes: “The first thing we need to do is get the ship back on its path,” Garber said, saying there is no timeline in place to obtain new ownership or a stadium site.

On promotion and relegation happening any time soon: “No.”

On a single-table system, Garber said that a form of single-table is in place with the Supporters’ Shield competition, but that the two-conference playoff system is part of the “culture” of North American sports.

The 2014 MLS season kicks off Saturday, when the Seattle Sounders host defending MLS Cup champions Sporting KC (3 pm ET; NBCSN)


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