Highlights from MLS commissioner Don Garber’s preseason Q-and-A

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xasIyVLC1yE]

Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber spent just under an hour answering media and fan questions on Tuesday – an interactive state-of-the-league ahead of this weekend’s opening to the MLS season. Here are the highlights from the session, embedded above.

(All responses listed in order they appear in the Q-and-A.)

Growth of Major League Soccer

“Our ultimate goal is to be a league of choice. If we become a league of choice for players and staff and fans, I think we will achieve that goal. A place where American and Canadian players want to play. A place where top international players want to play. A place where fans proudly say that they are a fan of this league, but more importantly a fan of their respective clubs …

“In order to be one of the top leagues in the world, you got to really be the top league in the region. In order to do that you have to have the top players in our country playing in our league.

On expansion, potential new markets

“There will be a time, and that time is probably sooner as opposed to later, where we won’t have expansion questions. The league will be fully expanded. That’s probably years from now … People care about it now because it’s part of the evolution of our league, of our business, but the time is going to come when this fully expanded.”

  • Atlanta: “Discussions with Arthur Blank and his family have been going on since 2008 … We’re getting close. There are ongoing discussions. There’s not a rush to finalize something there. The new stadium that they’re planning is not going to open up for a number of years.”
  • Texas – Austin and San Antonio:It’s premature for both markets … Expanding in Texas, that’s likely going to happen. Where that happens, when that happens, remains to be seen.”
  • Cleveland: “We need more teams in the Midwest … there haven’t been any discussions (about Cleveland) of late … Support the Crew.”
  • Detroit: “We knew there’s been some interest. There haven’t been any discussions. Not sure it’s on the short list, but you never know.”
  • Minnesota: “Minneapolis is on the short list. Lots of interest there. We’ve had a high level of activity with the current Minnesota United ownership group … We think they’re smart. We think they’re focused, and they’re great community citizens.”
  • North Carolina: “Even in my early days — back in [1999], 2000 — we’ve always looked around it, because it is a hotbed of soccer … We’ll monitor it. We’ve said we need to get south of Washington, D.C. Atlanta is a southern team. Florida … is south of D.C. … I’m not sure North Carolina is coming anytime soon.”
  • Sacramento: “I would encourage every fan in that market: support the Republic; get behind it; build that team; build that brand. Show that there’s a real appetite north of San Jose for professional, high-level soccer, and we’ll see what happens.”

Chivas USA

“We said a year ago we would come up [with] a solution to our challenges with our second team in L.A., and we have had challenges. When you’re running a young sports league, you’ve got to accept you’re not going to get [everything] right.u’ got to be bold enough to make tough decisions … and you have to be man enough to say ‘we didn’t make the right decision’ and come up with a plan to fix it. That’s where are with Chivas USA …

“Lots of interested parties. We have not set a price for it because we haven’t decided how we’re going to go about that process, because the first thing we need to do is get the ship back on path.

(Commissioner Garber also mention the University of Southern California as a potential site for a future Chivas USA venue. Answering a question about possible Chivas USA relocation out of Los Angeles, Garber said, “No.”)

On a potential stadium for New York City FC

“It’s tough to get stadium projects done in New York City, perhaps even more difficult than it was six months or a year ago … Short-term, sometime soon they’re going to make an announcement of where they’re going to play temporarily.”

On how the league has improved since he took over

“We are a stable, viable, and productive entity, where in 1999 or 2000, we were all trying to figure out what could this be and what would this be, and whether we can get through the next couple of years. We don’t really worry about that today …”

“We had a handful or owners, and today we have lots of them – more than I could mention … many of them are folks that have come into the league and this is their sole focus …”

“There was only one (soccer-specific) stadium at that time. Now we have 14 of our clubs playing in 15 buildings …”

“The infrastructure has changed dramatically … the big change that (U.S. Men’s National Team head coach) Jurgen Klinsmann sees today, even over a couple of years ago, is the training grounds are more professional, the opportunities for players from a nutrition and fitness perspective, the focus on medical testing — just overall sports medicine — has so dramatically changed because we have the capability to be able to do that.

On a future promotion/relegation system

“No.”

On a single-table competition format

“Now that all the questions are more expansion-oriented, the single-table jockeys have gone quiet over the last year. I think we have a single-table competition with our Supporters’ Shield.”

MLS 3 Things: Resurgent Zardes, Toronto up, New England down

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A busy Saturday in Major League Soccer sees three interesting results bolstering the story lines of the final few months of the season.

[ MORE: Unstoppable Josef | Zlatan, too ]

1) Imagine a world with the reigning champs as your reward for finishing first.

With 14 matches to play, Toronto FC has Jozy Altidore back in the fold and has pulled to within eight points of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot after a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire on Saturday.

Sebastian Giovinco looks like Sebastian Giovinco in scoring another outstanding goal, just his fifth of the season, while Jonathan Osorio also scored in the win.

Before you watch Seba’s goal, picture you’ve won the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Now picture TFC as your semifinal reward.

2) New England is well and truly slumping

Brad Friedel‘s Revs are slipping after losing a third-straight league match, and New England has gained a solitary point since the calendar turned to July following a 2-0 loss at Red Bull Arena.

Fourth through ninth in the East are separated by nine points, and New England is very much in that mix now. Friedel is certainly at the most trying time of his tenure.

Second half goals from Bradley Wright-Phillips and Daniel Royer did the trick for RBNY, who have claimed 15 of the last 18 points available to them (The lone blemish is the Hudson River Derby).

The Red Bulls are now 8-1-1 at home this season, while New England is 1-4-4 away from Foxboro.

3) Gyasi Zardes’ return to form is surprising and wonderful

Columbus has its second win since May 19, and will be feeling much better about itself following a 3-2 comeback win over Orlando City which included a pair of equalizers.

One of those came in the 88th minute, as Gyasi Zardes completed his brace by converting a penalty won by new arrival Patrick Mullins.

The Crew won late via a rare Wil Trapp goal — the USMNT midfielder has just two in 161 matches — but let’s focus on Zardes.

Zardes’ 13th goal of the season continues an amazing turnaround under striker whisperer Gregg Berhalter. It’s Zardes’ second double-digit season, and his first since 2014. He is firmly in frame for another USMNT look, this time as a center forward, but first there’s plenty to like about the big man.

Surging Galaxy ride Ibrahimovic magic to 3-1 win (video)

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a man on fire, and the LA Galaxy are rounding into form.

The Galaxy overcame an early deficit in Chester to clobber the Philadelphia Union 3-1 on Saturday behind a goal and an assist from their world-class striker.

[ MORE: Neymar on diving ]

Romain Alessandrini had two assists, while Michael Ciani and Ola Kamara also scored for LA. CJ Sapong scored for Philly, assisted by Borek Dockal.

Unbeaten-in-seven LA moves into fourth in the West with the win, while Philadelphia remains three points back of sixth in the East.

Ibrahimovic has now scored in six of his last seven matches, and has 12 goals and two assists in 21 matches overall.

Let’s start with the assist, which we must’ve seen two dozen times when the big Swede was with Paris Saint-Germain.

Ibrahimovic takes a difficult pass out of the air with absurd touch, then waits for the right time to send an impeccable through ball into the path of Kamara.

As for the goal, you almost feel for Mark McKenzie.

The Union’s Homegrown defender has to choose between Alessandrini darting into his box and allowing Ibrahimovic a lick of space.

He gives it, understandably, then rushes to close down Ibrahimovic.

It wasn’t fast enough. Boom.

Americans on both sides, Weah scores as PSG fall to Bayern (video)

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Two hopes of the USMNT’s future — one more immediate than the other — squared off in the International Champions Cup on Saturday.

Paris Saint-Germain teenager Timothy Weah, 18, went 90 minutes and scored his side’s only goal in the 3-1 loss in Austria.

[ MORE: Neymar on diving ]

On the other side of the field was 62nd minute substitute Chris Richards, far less known to the American supporter.

Richards is on loan from FC Dallas, where he’s a Homegrown Player. The 18-year-old center back is going to play for Bayern’s U-19 side following a successful trial in April.

Both Bayern and PSG were without key pieces, as Weah went up against a decent Bayern back line of Juan Bernat, Javi Martinez, Josip Stanisic, and Rafinha.

Arjen Robben, Sandro Wagner, and Franck Ribery were the biggest names in Bayern’s XI, while David Alaba, Kingsley Coman, and Serge Gnabry came off the bench.

For PSG, Gianluigi Buffon started as did Adrien Rabiot.

Weah’s goal is below, and here’s what he had to say about it:

“It’s an amazing feeling and getting a well-done job. Me scoring goals, I was really happy to get my first goal for PSG and first goal in this competition. We’re going to Singapore with our head on our shoulders. We’re going to be really humble and keep playing.”

Klopp talks Pulisic, Liverpool’s spending

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Jurgen Klopp admits he’d love to work with Christian Pulisic again, but isn’t going to butt his nose into Borussia Dortmund’s business.

Speaking ahead of Liverpool’s International Champions Cup match against BVB, Klopp was asked about his interest in the American teenager.

[ MORE: Josef Martinez bags 3 more ]

Klopp was quick to point out that Pulisic is under contract to Dortmund and not for sale, as much as he’s aware.

From The Liverpool Echo:

“He had not his best season last year but he was still a decisive player but it’s important in that age group that there’s no rush. He still has 14 or 15 years to play in his career and that’s good and he wants to be the best Pulisic he can be. For this, there is still space for development.

“If – at one point – he will join us, I don’t know. I like him, it’s not that that could be the problem, but we respect contracts still and there’s no market I know about at the moment. We did our business and Dortmund are doing theirs. All good.”

Also all good? Klopp’s evolution on spending after blasting other Premier League clubs for big money buys in the past.

Klopp said he would quit football if transfer fees like Paul Pogba‘s became the norm. Well, they have, and no club has spent as much money as the Reds this summer.

“That’s the problem these days, hey? Whatever b.s. you say, nobody will forget it. On the other side, it’s still kind of true. I couldn’t have imagined since then that the world would change like it has. Two years ago £100million was a crazy number. Since then the world has changed completely.”

He said he’s going to do whatever it takes to make Liverpool successful, and Klopp now has the world’s most expensive goalkeeper and most expensive defender in his squad.