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Posted at 7:07 PM ET, 11/20/2010

MLS Commissioner Don Garber addresses possible league changes and improving officiating

By Steve Goff

The MLS board of governors discussed the league's scheduling and playoff formats Saturday, but changes next season are "more than likely [going to be] a tweak to our system but not any major changes," Commissioner Don Garber said.

One aspect that he insisted will be phased out is the system that sends clubs from one conference to compete in the other conference's playoff bracket. This year, for example, the Colorado Rapids and San Jose Earthquakes finished fifth and sixth respectively in the Western Conference and played in the Eastern playoffs. Both advanced to the Eastern final.

Garber also said that a single table is not being considered. "We still believe in" conferences, he said, citing the opportunity for "special moments," such as a first-place finish in the regular season and a conference playoff title.

Garber also suggested that the league will not have a balanced regular season schedule next year, in which each of the 18 clubs would play one another at home and away. The reason, he explained, was league expansion in 2012 and beyond. With 19, and then 20, teams, a balanced schedule would not be possible because the number of matches that each club plays will remain the same.

Down the road, however, the league anticipates significant changes to its competition formats.

"While we have been evolving over the last number of years, there is going to be major evolution when we have 19 or 20 teams," Garber said. "When that evolution happens, we're looking at more of a revolution than an evolution."

For Garber's thoughts on officiating.....

Garber also addressed questions about officiating, saying that one of his greatest frustrations is that "I can't decide who to hire and who to fire" because the officials are trained and assigned by the U.S. Soccer Federation.

"It's the beauty of the game, but it's not the beautiful part of the game. I get it ... but it's frustrating to run a league and you don't have a person working for you."

He sounded a warning about next year, when the addition of two expansion clubs will add 68 more games and put a strain on the officiating pool. He also cited international competitions held in the United States next year that will further deplete the group.

"We're not going to have enough officials," Garber said. "So we're going to have to figure out where we get them from. I don't know whether it will be international officials. I don't know where they're coming from. We have a perfect storm coming next year."

MLS and the USSF are working together "to make [the quality of officiating] better," he added. "We are talking about setting up an officiating center and having a full staff person in the league office that would be closer to us in analyzing games. ... We're spending more money on training. ... The USSF is really focused on making it better."

Speaking in general about the officating, Garber said: "It's not as bad as people think it is. [Some] would say that the quality of officials has grown faster than the quality of play. ... The vast majority of the controversial calls -- more than 50 percent, more than 60 percent -- are not bad calls."

To clarify, Garber is talking about more than 50-60 percent of "controversial calls", not all calls.

By Steve Goff  | November 20, 2010; 7:07 PM ET
Categories:  MLS  | Tags:  MLS  
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Comments

So in other words, (mediocre) business as usual...

Posted by: cidcamp70 | November 20, 2010 9:03 PM | Report abuse

man I wish Garber would get rid off play-offs in MLS. I just cant stand play-offs anymore. he always cites the four or so leagues in the world that use it while overlooking the majority. He should make the play-offs into a separate cup or post season tournament. Have the supporters shield the overall champion.

Posted by: TheWashDipsSince88 | November 20, 2010 9:38 PM | Report abuse

Can we at least ask the refs to wear so much hair gel?

The stuff glistens off the lights. Blinding, I tell you.

Posted by: delantero | November 20, 2010 9:45 PM | Report abuse

Can we at least ask the refs to NOT wear so much hair gel?

The stuff glistens off the lights. Blinding, I tell you.

Posted by: delantero | November 20, 2010 9:47 PM | Report abuse

There's no reason to go off the balanced schedule next year. The league should take advantage of it to introduce the new teams to fans of the other teams and introduce the other teams to the new teams' fans.

Presumably one of the changes MLS is contemplating is a calendar change. I still have issues with playing in winter, but I might be down with an Apertura/Clausura, or even just taking a break in the winter and having the championship in the summer -- maybe the second or 3rd week of July...except that creates problems in Cup years. So. MLS will probably switch to something like the Euro calendar. I think it's a mistake. Just too cold in too many cities. Fans won't come...unless they come up with a north/south scheduling that takes climate patterns into account.

I also expect MLS to switch to divisions within the conferences. and to play really unbalanced schedules to promote divisional rivalries. i think that'll be overkill.

Posted by: fischy | November 20, 2010 11:03 PM | Report abuse

[Garber] always cites the four or so leagues in the world that use it while overlooking the majority.

Posted by: TheWashDipsSince88 | November 20, 2010 9:38 PM
________________________________________

And you're overlooking the majority of North American pro sports (not to mention collegiate conferences in numerous sports) that have playoffs. Whether you like it or not, MLS operates in North America, not somewhere else.

Posted by: universityandpark | November 20, 2010 11:19 PM | Report abuse

MLS, creating jobs.

Posted by: Reignking | November 20, 2010 11:20 PM | Report abuse

Garber needs to listen to what the fans want, which is:
1) A balanced schedule.
2) A single table.
Maybe he should stop expansion at 20 teams for awhile. Expanding too quickly dilutes the talent pool. This is one of the reasons we still can't compete against teams from Mexico. If this league is to ever get real respect we need to start consistently winning CONCACAF Champions League.

Posted by: bigwave | November 21, 2010 12:01 AM | Report abuse

Garber needs to listen to what the fans want, which is:
1) A balanced schedule.
2) A single table.
Maybe he should stop expansion at 20 teams for awhile. Expanding too quickly dilutes the talent pool. This is one of the reasons we still can't compete against teams from Mexico. If this league is to ever get real respect we need to start consistently winning CONCACAF Champions League.

Posted by: bigwave | November 21, 2010 12:02 AM | Report abuse

Gold Cup break?

Posted by: JacobfromAtlanta-ish | November 21, 2010 12:30 AM | Report abuse

You can do a balanced schedule *and* a single table *with* 20 teams, if you do away with the playoffs! Let the Champions League, and the extra TV and home games that brings, be the reward for finishing in the top 4 or top 5.

I give Garber the benefit of the doubt, but it'd be nice to at least see evidence of an open mind on these things in the long run. It's important to have a product the US sports fan relates to, but in the long run, it's maybe even more important to have a product the casual overseas fan relates to. A global profile is a huge part of what makes any major sports league successful.

Posted by: Godfather_of_Goals | November 21, 2010 12:40 AM | Report abuse

And you're overlooking the majority of North American pro sports (not to mention collegiate conferences in numerous sports) that have playoffs. Whether you like it or not, MLS operates in North America, not somewhere else.

Posted by: universityandpark | November 20, 2010 11:19 PM | Report abuse
-------------------------------------------
By North America your referring to America not the continent right? lol

anyway, Futbol/Football/Soccer is a global sport. I emphasize on GLOBAL...MLS needs to get with the program. The majority of the population doesnt care to much about the sport why should we care to follow their thought process about play-offs. We are not one of the major sports in the country which allows us to break free from the norm. It gives us that flexibility to change.

Posted by: TheWashDipsSince88 | November 21, 2010 9:24 AM | Report abuse

@Dips -- You don't like toe think big, do you? I guess it's easy to say think "small", when it's not millions of dollars of your money invested.

MLS is a North American soccer league. As it happens, there is another major soccer league in North America -- the Mexican Primera Liga -- and they have a playoffs system, too. There's a reason why a lot of leagues -- GLOBALLY -- have playoffs., and why countries that don't, make a big deal of their Cup series...why England plays its Cup finals in massive Wembley stadium. Fans dig the elimination format. Even the World Cup uses it, not a single table. The reason playoffs have expanded in all American sports recently is because the owners discovered there was more money to made from more playoff games and, just as importantly, more money to be made by increasing fans' interest in the final weeks of the season, with more teams in the running for playoff spots.

@GoG -- MLS has already announced they will take a long pause at 20 teams. It's not just about the player talent pool, as we're learning here -- there aren't even enough referees.

Posted by: fischy | November 21, 2010 10:05 AM | Report abuse

@Dips -- I didn't mean to be curt or dismissive. I kinda cut my comment short. What I meant by thinking big is that you're saying MLS should respond to a handful of mostly eurosnob soccer fanatics in this country. As if MLS should revel in its minor league status. THe owners, I'm sure, have bigger ambitions. They see their investment paying off as the audience for pro soccer here grows pretty dramatically in years to come. They're aiming at that larger audience, as they should.

Posted by: fischy | November 21, 2010 10:09 AM | Report abuse

"[Some] would say that the quality of officials has grown faster than the quality of play."

If he wants to EVER be taken seriously, why say such a stupid thing. I think the officiating hasn't improved in at least 5 years and the play is much more improved over that time period.

As for eliminating the playoffs, how about when we hit 20 teams create a League Cup, single elimination tournament for every team in MLS. Five additional matches and no playoffs.

Posted by: KP1935 | November 21, 2010 10:30 AM | Report abuse

By North America your referring to America not the continent right? lol

Posted by: TheWashDipsSince88 | November 21, 2010 9:24 AM
_________________________________________

Actually, I was thinking of the U.S. and Canada, although the term NA is often used to include Mexico and points south, and even the islands. CONCACAF's long-winded name could certainly be shortened if they adopted that convention.

And while I'm at it, I have no strong opinions on single table/balanced schedule per se. However, I do get a bit concerned when people talk as if it is self-evident that that is the superior format, and that there are no tradeoffs whatever, because it implies that the vast majority of pro and college sports fans in this country are a bunch of deluded idiots.

Posted by: universityandpark | November 21, 2010 10:30 AM | Report abuse

Garber: "When that evolution happens, we're looking at more of a revolution than an evolution." He means that when the league gets to 20 teams, he'll add a designated hitter. (Deluded idiots will drool a little more.)

A single table can make every match important. That's a pretty special quality for a sports league. Only the NFL has it, while the MLB, NBA, and NHL play a bunch of games to make a little money before playing a few games to make a lot of money. In those leagues and in MLS, when bad players don't try hard, the product is unwatchable (and if you don't believe me just go rewatch any DC game from last season). As a fan, I don't want to see a garbage game in which DC plays the same team for the fourth time (maybe fifth, depending on Open Cup or other competitions) and there are few surprises aside from the sheer number of fouls.

For me, the only factor counseling against a single table/balanced schedule is the absence of relegation or other motivation for the bottom teams. But the playoffs aren't working because of 1) inability to choose an attractive site for the final 2) disproportionate reward for inferior teams that play well in the fall 3) format gives no real reward to teams with excellent regular season 4) I just don't care enough about Colorado and Dallas to want to watch this game, but the league already made a big bet on this match as a moneymaker.

Posted by: hungrypug | November 21, 2010 12:27 PM | Report abuse

By North America your referring to America not the continent right? lol

Posted by: TheWashDipsSince88 | November 21, 2010 9:24 AM
--------------------------------------------------------------

LOL because you think that including Mexico would weaken the argument about payoffs in North America...when, it actually makes it stronger. , Futbol in Mexico has playoffs, just like in MLS.

Posted by: fischy | November 21, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

A "revolution" as in a step backwards into the re-Americanization of Major League Soccer. No thank you.

The day Garber is no longer MLS commissioner will be the happiest day in the soccer world since Onlafo was fired. Garber is way too closed-minded, which is a terrible trait to have (probably has caused his brain to shrink too).

As many people have previously said, if you play the same team over and over again, it loses meaning and creates misleading standings. Conferences make the league more corny and less noteworthy. The playoffs do too.

MLS needs to dock the conferences and stop expanding after 20-22 clubs. If that "23rd city" wants a club; give them a USL club: let them build popularity there and then create promo/relegation. Needs to happen. That's the true "revolution".

Posted by: T_Walter | November 23, 2010 5:43 PM | Report abuse

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