Gar­ber: MLS must sell player con­tracts

Com­mis­sioner sees flaws in phi­los­o­phy of ‘league of choice’

Orlando Sentinel - - SPORTS WEEKEND - By Jor­dan Cul­ver

AT­LANTA — MLS com­mis­sioner Don Gar­ber shifted his stance from be­ing a “league of choice” to one that sells play­ers dur­ing his state of the league ad­dress Fri­day ahead of the MLS Cup fi­nal be­tween At­lanta United and the Port­land Tim­bers.

“We need to be­come more of a sell­ing league,” Gar­ber 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 your mar­keted to be those that could be as­pi­ra­tions for young kids who are peek­ing through the fence when they see them train.

“We all need to get used to the fact that in the world of global soc­cer, play­ers get sold.”

Gar­ber added the league is try­ing to strike a bal­ance be­tween teams re­tain­ing their stars — or at least keep­ing them in MLS — and its place in a global sport.

“We have been buy­ing for so long, and then as we’ve gone through the anal­y­sis, it’s hard to jus­tify that in­vest­ment and the in­vest­ment that we have to make in player de­vel­op­ment,” Gar­ber said. “We’ve got to have some­thing that turns this model around, or else it’s go­ing to be un­sus­tain­able.”

He ref­er­enced Cana­dian star Alphonso Davies, who was re­cently sold to Bun­desliga jug­ger­naut Bay­ern Mu­nich, as a “pos­i­tive thing for the league.”

Talk of soc­cer-spe­cific sta­di­ums in MLS also came up. At­lanta United plays in Mercedes-Benz Sta­dium, which it shares with the At­lanta Fal­cons of the NFL. The Five Stripes have ex­pe­ri­enced al­most-un­prece­dented suc­cess with their sta­dium sit­u­a­tion.

It’s been enough for Gar­ber to con­sider back­ing down from smaller soc­cer­spe­cific sta­di­ums in all mar­kets. He added he would want a larger build­ing to be shared rather than an MLS side be­ing a ten­ant in an NFL fa­cil­ity.

“I still be­lieve this about about build­ing soc­cer-spe­cific sta­di­ums in the right lo­ca­tions,” Gar­ber said. “But ev­ery now and again, you have some­thing that shocks you. What’s been hap­pen­ing in Seat­tle is the first ex­am­ple of that. The team’s still av­er­ag­ing over 40,000 fans a game. What’s hap­pen­ing here in At­lanta con­tin­ues to as­tound me.

“I think we’re prob­a­bly we’re more open to think­ing about it now that we’ve seen two ex­am­ples of suc­cess with large sta­di­ums. The model, clearly, is still fo­cused on smaller fa­cil­i­ties.”

An­other topic was the MLS All-Star Game, which is head­ing to Or­lando City Sta­dium in 2019. When the league an­nounced it would bring one of its mar­quee events to Cen­tral Florida, Or­lando City SC ma­jor­ity owner Flávio Au­gusto Da Silva hinted at a pos­si­ble change in the for­mat of the game.

Gar­ber shut that down Fri­day af­ter­noon. The typ­i­cal for­mat of the MLS Al­lS­tar Game pits the best play­ers from across the league against a top in­ter­na­tional club.

“I don’t see that it’s go­ing to change,” he said. “We had been talk­ing about the Mex­i­can league [Liga MX] play­ing its all-stars against ours. I think that would be a pretty cool thing to do. That might be some­time in our fu­ture, but next year we’re go­ing to keep the for­mat we have.

“Some of the more ex­cit­ing games we’ve ever had have been against in­ter­na­tional clubs.”

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