Don Garber Archive

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State of the MLS roundtable: Since there’s no movement on roster equality, now is the time for Canada to get tough

Well, at Tuesday’s roundtable, Garber confirmed that there isn’t going to be a new approach. When pressed by Leduc, Garber retreated back to the argument that U.S. labour law prevents Canadians from being domestics on American soil. He said a Canadians can’t be treated any differently than a Mexican, a Honduran or a Brit. So, Garber made it clear that the status quo will remain — and that roster equality will not become reality in MLS.

Don Garber began his roundtable with a group of five selected journalists with an overture intended for Canadian ears. He said that if Canada doesn’t qualify for a World Cup in his time as MLS commissioner, “It will be a mark I truly regret.”

He said he wanted to work with the Canadian Soccer Association, and that the United States, Canada and Mexico together could be soccer powerhouse.

The feel-good vibes lasted until it was time for RDS’s Patrick Leduc to ask his question. He asked the commissioner about the league’s stance on roster rules as they pertained to Canadians. In MLS, Canadians are recognized as domestics on Canadian teams, but as imports on American teams. But Americans are domestics in both countries. In July, Garber said “We are working on a new approach to our international player rules as they relate to Canada. Stay tuned.”

Well, at Tuesday’s roundtable, Garber confirmed that there isn’t going to be a new approach. When pressed by Leduc, Garber retreated back to the argument that U.S. labour law prevents Canadians from being domestics on American soil. He said a Canadians can’t be treated any differently than a Mexican, a Honduran or a Brit. So, Garber made it clear that the status quo will remain — and that roster equality will not become reality in MLS.
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Canadian quotas are price USL must pay for not having Canada at the table when MLS deal was hatched

Victor Montagliani

Victor Montagliani

Back in 2013, Major League Soccer announced its partnership plan with (officially regarded as) third division USL-PRO.

But there was a problem. It was an American agreement made with the oversight of American authorities. For MLS, which is a North American league, shutting Canada out of the process was a major problem.

So, now, both MLS and USL-Pro have to reap what they have sown. As the Montreal Impact (Montreal FC), Vancouver Whitecaps (New Westminster) and Toronto FC (maybe a team north of the city) move ahead with plans for affiliate USL-Pro teams for 2015, we have learned they will be subject to pretty tough quotas.

As reported by Duane Rollins in Canadian Soccer News (link here), any USL-PRO team affiliated with a Canadian MLS team will have to follow some strict roster rules. Half of the players on the squad must be Canadian-eligible, and six of the 11 starters must be Canadian-eligible.

By “eligible” we mean that, if Canadian national-team coach Benito Floro made the call, that player would be available to go.

The move will likely prevent teams from stashing foreign talent on their USL-PRO rosters, or treat their affiliates like true minor-league clubs. That’s fine. The Whitecaps have sent established non-Canadian pros to NASL’s FC Edmonton on loan in the past, and the two teams still have a strong relationship. Toronto FC sent Ryan Richter to the Ottawa Fury. No reason that the Fury can’t continue to build relationships with TFC and the Impact.
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18

Garber hints that Canadian-player rules in MLS may change: Why we need to look at minutes played, not roster spots

Don Garber

Don Garber

In a Facebook chat with fans held on Monday, MLS Commissioner Don Garber was greeted with the thorny question about Canadian players in the league.

Francis Ghanimé asked him: “Will Canadian players ever stop counting as internationals for American clubs?”

And this was the answer from the commish.

“We are working on a new approach to our international player rules as they relate to Canada. Stay tuned.”

We have asked MLS for more clarification on the issue.

But, we do know the rules as they pertain to Canadians are on the radar. We also know the Canadian Soccer Association has lobbied MLS to changes the rules so Canadians are seen as domestic players, league wide. This would then put MLS on an equal footing with USL-PRO, which allows Canadians to be domestics on U.S. clubs.

Right now, the Canadian teams are required to each carry three Canadian players on their rosters. On the U.S. teams, Canadians are counted as international players and take up roster space that many American teams would prefer to give to players from, well, sexier parts of the soccer world. Meanwhile, on Canadian teams, Americans are seen as domestics.

The timing is interesting. We know CSA has been pushing for changes for a while. But, now, the CSA has gone public with its stated goal of having Canada’s own “Division 1A” (CLICK HERE or see issue 2 of Plastic Pitch), and reports continue that NASL, CFL owners and the CSA are discussing the formation of a Canadian division — something that NASL won’t deny, but says it simply can’t comment on… at this time.

So, pressure is no doubt building on MLS.
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5

The Issey Nakajima-Farran trade: The kind of transaction MLS needs to avoid if it wants to be a world-class league

On Wednesday, Issey Nakajima-Farran celebrated a Voyageurs' Cup win with keeper Joe Bendik. On Friday, he was traded. PHOTO: CANADA SOCCER/BOB FRID

On Wednesday, Issey Nakajima-Farran celebrated a Voyageurs’ Cup win with keeper Joe Bendik. On Friday, he was traded. PHOTO: CANADA SOCCER/BOB FRID

It wasn’t a trade that would go down as one of the biggest transactions in MLS history, in terms of on-the-field pieces.

On Friday, Toronto FC sent Canadian national team veteran Issey Nakajima-Farran to the Montreal Impact for Collen Warner. Some allocation money was involved. Outside of the fact the Nakajima-Farran has been in and out of the national side of late, the news wouldn’t be making anyone imagine new glories for the two football clubs involved.

But, in terms of how MLS is seen, and how it wants to be seen, this is a prime example of how the league must change if it truly wants to be one of the world’s best by 2020.
Nakajima-Farran, a player who has spent most of his career abroad, came to Toronto FC just after the start of the current season. He scored some goals. He was still in the process of getting settled and, less than two months after first donning the TFC shirt, he was told he was getting traded.

Sure, no big deal, right? Trades happen all the time. It could happen to an NHLer or an NBA rookie or a baseball veteran.

But, that’s the issue. If MLS wants to attract talent from abroad to boost the league, it must eventually understand that strictly following North American practises — such as trading a player just a few weeks after he’s been offered a contract — don’t sit well in the global soccer marketplace. MLS must compete for talent with leagues that regularly pay for their players’ accommodations and transportation, and who guarantee a player will be settled for the length of his contract. If a player is to be sold, his agent is consulted. There are no surprises like showing up for training to find out you need to relocate to another city — and can you make the next flight?

Nakajima-Farran took to Twitter right after the trade and put the hashtag #inhumane right next to MLS. He told his followers that he has to leave Toronto, even before his stuff arrives from Spain. Read the rest of this entry »

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3

As MLS announces expansion franchises, the temptation to add more playoff teams needs to be curbed

Don Garber

Don Garber

I’ve always been a big believer of a playoff system that might exclude some good teams rather than one that includes mediocre teams.

I preferred it when Major League Baseball went straight to National League and American League Championship Series. Two division winners in each league was enough. Its playoffs were once about best vs. best, and were far more compelling in the ‘70s and ‘80s than they are now.

If the NFL could find a way to lower the number of playoff teams, that would be great. Personally, I’d love to get rid of the divisions, because the law of averages suggests that one of the eight groupings of four teams will be so collectively awful that a 9-7 or an 8-8 team will get into the post season. If it was up to me, top four teams in the AFC and top four teams in the NFC make the playoffs. That’s it.

The NHL continues to worry me, with rumours of adding more playoff teams in seasons to come.

I’m not anti-playoffs like some Euro soccer snobs. I grew up in North America. I’m fine with a league champ being determined after a post-season process. I just don’t think playoffs that are super inclusive are nearly as interesting as ones that are exclusive in nature.

Before the start of the NASL season, commissioner Bill Peterson declared that the league would not increase the number of teams that go to the post-season, even when (and if) the circuit gets to its goal of 18 franchises. The NASL will have four teams go to its “Championship” rounds this season, out of a 10-team league. Peterson vowed that the format would not change.

To me, it’s a great compromise. For the traditional soccer supporters, who believe nothing should be more important than league play, a four-team set-up makes for a very exclusive playoff process. The difficulty of getting into the Championship means that the regular-season games will matter, that there won’t be as many occasions where a team can take a week off. But there still we be a few playoff games satisfy the North American sports fan.
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1

Oh, so we’re talking about an MLS winter schedule again? Will it ever go away?

MLS-logoBack in 2010, just before MLS Cup kicked off in Toronto, league commissioner Don Garber addressed a packed media gallery.

And he talked about MLS going to a winter schedule.

“We’ve got to take the steps to figure it out,” said Garber. (CLICK HERE FOR THAT STORY)

Being in the media room at the time, and talking to soccer reporters from across North America, this was the gut feeling: That, as the United States was bidding for the World Cup at the time, the offer to go to a winter schedule wasn’t a serious one. The consensus was that Garber’s pre-MLS Cup presser was a bit of a dog-and-pony show in order to show FIFA that MLS was at least thinking about being a good international-calendar lapdog, which would, in turn, help the World Cup bid.

Of course, we all know how well that U.S. World Cup bid turned out. Qatar 2022!

So, when news hit Monday (again, sigh) that MLS might look at a winter schedule (courtesy the New York Daily News), a charge that the league denied in Philly.com, I couldn’t help but feel that this was a lot like November, 2010 all over again.

How so? MLS sees its story get out there about a winter schedule. It gets shouted down by its fans (as was the case last time) and we all go back to our normal March-December soccer lives. Once again, MLS can tell the rest of the world, “hey, we tried.”
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4

O’Dea’s departure a sign of a fundamental flaw in MLS

MLS-logoBack in my elementary-school years, my friends and I had a spring-time fixation. We’d go out near the playground boundary at Brampton’s John Newman Catholic School, and search the leafy greens that poked through the chain-link fences that separated the schoolyard from the backyards of the bordering homes.

What were we looking for? Caterpillars. We’d find our prey, and carefully prod them into jars, that were already lovingly stuffed with leaves, grass and a few drops of water — all the necessities of life for a caterpillar. Then, the lids, already with tiny air holes pre-punched in them, would be screwed on top.

For most of us, the caterpillar experiment would end in sorrow. After a few days, the average boy would notice the creature had stopped moving, and he’d shake out the greens and the corpse, and then be off into the greens again to look for a new pet/victim.

But, the lucky one (and, to be clear, this happened to me only once. I have a lot of caterpillars on my conscience) would one day find a white cocoon and, then, be able to see a moth emerge. Once the cocoon had formed, there was no more need for the lid — once it was ready, the moth would be able to fly away, and the adoptive parenthood of a bug could be called a success.

MLS is at that cocoon stage; it was nurtured in a controlled environment filled with salary caps, allocations and draft orders. It beat the odds, as pro soccer hasn’t been a survival industry on this continent. But, soon it will be ready to fly away; commissioner Don Garber has repeated this over and over — that MLS will be one of the world’s top leagues in 10 years.
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5

NYCFC announcement leaves more questions than answers — and that’s good for MLS

MLS-logoMLS showed some media mastery in announcing the new New York City FC franchise Tuesday. By leaving us with as more questions than could possibly be answered in a conference call, the league has ensured that columnists and bloggers — even ones that don’t regularly cover soccer — will write the kind of speculative articles that every league PR person publicly berates but secretly loves.

That’s because these sort of speculative articles keep the new franchise in the hearts and minds of New Yorkers — and that’s important, because the new team will start play in 2015 in a temporary venue, while it searches for a home.

So many questions:

What will NYCFC mean for the Red Bulls? Commissioner Don Garber said he hoped it would stoke a fierce rivalry in a city of 19 million. But it’s not like NYCFC is coming in as an upstart, looking to knock off a team with lots of history and trophies. What NYCFC is competing with is a team that doesn’t sell out its soccer palace that you’ll find out on the train to Newark Airport, a team that’s name is a brand, a team that’s devoid of championships.
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0

Whitecaps lose Leveron to suspension: San Jose’s Chavez has ban reduced

Johnny Leveron

Johnny Leveron

We love to complain about how referees continually sabotage the efforts of our favourite teams, and then look away when they make calls in our teams’ favours.

So, Whitecaps fans have something to chew on Wednesday morning. Would the Caps have been able to overcome the Galaxy by a 3-1 count Saturday had Johnny Leveron been sent off for his early two-footed scissor challenge on the Galaxy’s Jose Villarreal?

Leveron was given a yellow for the sliding foul he committed early in that match. But the MLS Disciplinary Committee ruled on it Wednesday, and deemed that it should have been red. Leveron has been suspended one game for a reckless challenge that endangered his opponent, and will miss the May 18 match against the Timbers.
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3

The fine lines: Labour law, competitive balance, Canadians and MLS

D.C. United's Kyle Porter: Canadian player, American club

D.C. United’s Kyle Porter: Canadian player, American club

Just a little over a month ago, The 11 ran the first two parts of a series exploring if, one day, Canadian players could ever be treated as domestic players on the U.S-based MLS teams.

We have looked at the issue from the perspective of Canadian immigration (CLICK HERE) and U.S. immigration (CLICK HERE). Now, in the third part, we ask if it would pass the labour-law sniff test and, if not, why does USL-Pro, the third division of American soccer — allow Canadians to be treated as domestics on its teams’ rosters?

The whole series was spawned after MLS Commissioner Don Garber told TSN’s Jason DeVos during a March 2 First Kick broadcast that MLS would run into labour-law issues if it changed its rules and allowed the 16 U.S.-based teams to recognize Canadians players as “domestic” workers.

The reason the third part has taken so long to complete? I talked to several major law schools in the U.S. and labour-law specialists. I made contact with MLS. But what I underestimated was that, when it came to U.S. labour law, how complex the question was. Over and over, U.S. legal experts told me that the notion of Canadians being treated as domestics on American team rosters would have them venture into a legal grey area. And that meant they didn’t want to go on the record, because there really was no true legal test for the question. In a way, I felt like I had asked Deep Thought the answer to life, the universe and everything, and he replied, “tricky.”
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