ATLANTA – Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber told reporters at his annual State of the League address ahead of Saturday’s MLS Cup between Atlanta United and the Portland Timbers (8 pm ET | FOX, UniMás; TSN, TVAS) that the league will determine its 28th expansion team “within the next 12 months.”
FC Cincinnati will become the league’s 24th team when they begin MLS play in 2019. Miami and Nashville are scheduled to join the league in 2020; Garber also referenced a reported new franchise in Austin, Texas as potentially slotting in as the league’s 27th team. Several other cities have also submitted bids for an MLS expansion spot.
Additionally, Garber mentioned that the league will consider expanding beyond 28 teams.
“We will grant the 28th team and make that decision sometime in the next 12 months,” said Garber. “And then we’re going to have to decide if we want to go forward beyond 28 teams. That’s a discussion that is taking place, and we’ll begin to introduce that subject at our Board [of Governors] meeting in the middle of next week. I don’t expect or anticipate that there will be an announcement coming out of that, but there’s no doubt in my mind that we can support having more than 28 teams in Major League Soccer, no doubt in my mind.”
Garber also discussed possible changes to the league’s playoff format, which are expected to be discussed at next week’s Board of Governors meeting.
“There’s been lots of talk about changing the playoff format. We’ve been looking hard at it, we’re going to be talking to our board about it next week and my guess is that we’re probably going to end up with something that’s a little bit different than what we have now,” said Garber. “But we’ll wait to go through our ownership meeting before we formally announce that. The idea here is to continually work on making the regular season more and more important so that winning in March is as important in winning in September or October. And our playoff format the one that we’re evaluating, and I think it’s really going to place a really, really high emphasis, strong emphasis on our regular season.”
In addition to the playoff format, changes could eventually come for the All-Star Game, though nothing is imminent. Garber said that the league will maintain its MLS vs. foreign club format for the 2019 All-Star Game in Orlando, but that they have “been talking about the Mexican league playing its All-Stars against ours” and that he thinks “that would be a pretty cool thing to do.”
Garber confirmed recent reports that the league has discussed a plan to eliminate its third Designated Player spot and increase the amount of Targeted Allocation Money given to each team, though it doesn’t sound like any rule change is imminent – or even likely. “One of the things that has been discussed is reducing the number of Designated Players,” Garber said. “Certainly, no decision has been made. I personally believe that we have a pretty good formula now…. So, we’ll see how that all works itself out. We have meetings, as I said, next week and then in March we all go away as an ownership group for a strategic offsite, and that’s probably where something like that will be re-evaluated.”
Garber was also asked about the new Canadian Premier League, which will begin play in seven cities across the country next spring. He said that MLS hasn’t yet had any talks with the CPL, though he noted “that’s probably something that should change.” He also said that MLS’ three Canadian clubs – Montreal Impact, Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps – need to sort out their relationships with the new league, hinting that it could have implications for their reserve teams down the road.
Garber also explained how the league’s thinking has evolved with regards to transferring its top young talent overseas, as illustrated by the recent sales of Vancouver Whitecaps attacker Alphonso Davies to Bayern Munich and New York Red Bulls midfielder Tyler Adams to RB Leipzig.
“We need to become more of a selling league,” he said. “As a person who has been selling this league for nearly 20 years, I’ve always believed that you needed to have the players that resonated in our market to be those that could be aspirations for young kids peeking through the fence when the see them training. And we all need to get used to the fact that in the world of global soccer, players get sold.
“We have this careful balance of how do you retain your stars and create consistency, which is consistent with the major leagues here in our country. We have a different dynamic in the global game. We have been buying for so long, and as we’ve gone through the analysis, it’s hard to justify that investment and the investment we have to make in player development. We’ve got to have something that turns this model around, or else it’s going to be unsustainable.”