Don Garber Archive

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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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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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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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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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The MLS “domestic” rule: Why allowing more Canadians in wouldn’t run afoul of U.S. Immigration

americanflagMLS Commissioner Don Garber has gone on the record stating that allowing Canadian players to be recognized as domestic players on the rosters of the 16 U.S.-based teams would cause legal issues south of the border for the league.

The 11 has been working to get legal opinions on the commissioner’s statement. Last week, we offered the Canadian side of the argument (CLICK HERE). Now, to the real meat of the matter — U.S. law and how it affects Canadian workers, and athletes in particular.

And the opinion that The 11 has heard is that — when it comes to U.S. immigration laws — the distinction in roster rules between the three Canadian MLS teams and the 16 American teams are solely the jurisdiction of the league. To break that down? That MLS could change the rules if it wished, and wouldn’t run afoul of U.S. immigration law. (That’s not to say changing the rules wouldn’t open up other legal issues: More on that, later.)
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Taking it to the experts: Exploring the Canadian “domestic” question in MLS

canadianflagMLS has publicly claimed that it can’t change its domestic-player because of labour-law issues in the U.S. Over the next couple of weeks, The 11 will try and steer its readers through labour law, and understand why an American CAN be a domestic player in Canada, but why a Canadian player CAN’T be considered a domestic in the United States.

There have been rising cries from Canadian MLS followers about the roster rules, which require the three Canadian teams to carry domestics outside of the eight designated international slots per team roster. Under MLS rules, those domestics who can be Canadian OR American. (Of those, a Canadian team must carry a minimum of three Canadian citizens or permanent residents). But, in the U.S., a Canadian takes up one of the international slots, and cannot be a domestic.

In a halftime interview during the March 2 First Kick match that saw Toronto FC lose to the Vancouver Whitecaps, MLS Commissioner Don Garber responded to commentator Jason DeVos’s question about the domestic distinctions between the two countries. Why can’t Canadians be “domestic” in the U.S.? Garber’s answer:

“…in the United States, if you are considered an international from a labour perspective, you can’t discriminate between one nationality and another. So we would have a challenge if a Colombian player believed that they were treated differently than a Canadian player.”

Fair enough. And you can’t find anything in the P-1, O-1 or H2B U.S. work visa applications that specifically mention Canadians. But this begs another question — if it’s considered discriminatory for Americans to single out Canadians for preferential treatment, why is it NOT discriminatory for Canadian teams to give that same preferential treatment to Americans?
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MLS focuses on referee development, and promises better protection of referees

Don Garber

Don Garber

Major League Soccer has pledged to a lot more to aid the professional development of its referees — but it will not tolerate extended protests from players and coaches.

As part of his online “March to Soccer” season kick-off address and press conference, MLS Commissioner Don Garber said the number of full-time referees used by the league will move up from three to nine. The officials will all work under the umbrella of the Professional Referee Organization (CLICK HERE). Those full-time referees will go through 18 three-day consultation periods during the season.

“They’re going to review tape, they’re going to sit down with their various trainers and they’re going to learn about what they did right, what they did wrong, and that things that they can do to be better,” said Garber.

The program will work with the cooperation of the Canadian Soccer Association and the United States Soccer Federation.
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Cosmos stadium plan, Indy expansion franchise: NASL gets the good-news day it needed

The North American Soccer League badly needed a day like Wednesday.

After being beaten up by its own fan base because of delays in the New York Cosmos’ entry into the league — and the Puerto Rico Islanders missing the spring session of the 2013 season in order to reorganize the franchise — NASL needed a good news day.

And it got good news, big time. As the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Convention sets up shop in Indianapolis, NASL stole the thunder from MLS — which is holding its SuperDraft on Thursday — with two major announcements.

• The confirmation of Indianapolis as the newest NASL expansion city; construction magnate Ersal Ozdemir’s club will join the league in 2014, alongside expansion teams from Ottawa and the Virginia suburbs of D.C.

• And, the unveiling of the New York Cosmos’s stadium plans, a 25,000 seat venue (which very much like the proposed new Edmonton Oilers arena, with its L-shaped design) located in Queens’ Belmont Park. The $400 million stadium would be privately financed. Plans have been submitted to Empire State Development Corporation, which is run by the state to fund projects with tax-free bonds. (CLICK HERE FOR STADIUM IMAGES)
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