Don Garber

Sacramento Republic

Sacramento, St. Louis emerge as MLS expansion favorites

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Soccer fans in Sacramento and St. Louis will be getting pretty excited right about now.

Both cities are in the frame to get an expansion side in Major League Soccer, according to MLS Commissioner Don Garber.

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Garber has said both Sacramento and STL have “the strongest bids by far” and ahead of the Board of Governor’s meeting in LA next month the expansion picture will be discussed heavily.

The commish also committed himself to making an announcement before the end of 2019 on the next expansion franchise, and “very likely much sooner than that.”

In an interview with the Sacramento Bee, Garber said that Sacramento and St. Louis are way ahead of the other expansion hopefuls but wouldn’t confirm which city is in the lead to get the 28th MLS franchise.

“Both are strong bids, both are great markets, both of them have worked very hard at the political leadership level and very much so at the ownership level, and certainly in each market fans have shown an enormous level of support,” Garber said.

Garber went on to speak of the admiration he has for the new wealthy investors that Sacramento Republic FC have lined up, Ron Burkle and Matt Alvarez, with the former the owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL. Brought in by club chairman Kevin Nagle, Burkle and Alvarez have agreed to purchase Sacramento Republic FC if the MLS bid is successful.

For many years, Sacramento were the frontrunners in the MLS expansion race given their impressive crowds in the USL and having a $300 million soccer-specific stadium lined up to be built on the Railyards site in downtown. But from an ownership point of view they were just missing some big investors, as Cincinnati, Nashville and Austin jumped ahead of them. Now, they have the owners they need.

As for St. Louis, their chances of getting a franchise have increased substantially after their MLS bid also received new backing from the prominent Taylor family, who own the Enterprise rental car company. They have revived a bid for a downtown stadium which would be primarily funded privately, and STL’s soccer heritage is clear for everyone to see. St. Louis FC are also having decent success in the USL and their part-owner, Jim Kavanaugh, is involved in their bid as the USL team would become the reserve side if an MLS side arrives in STL.

Adding teams in both Sacramento and St. Louis would also link up plenty of MLS cities nearby, something MLS is keen to do as creating local rivalries has been crucial to the recent success of the league.

With MLS previously planning to only expand to 28 teams, it is also quite clear that it will readjust that number and somewhere close to 30-32 would now be a good number of teams for the expanding league.

Teams 28 and 29 look like being Sacramento and St. Louis, with the likes of Phoenix, Detroit and Las Vegas scrapping it out for the next few spots.

Don Garber to stay MLS commissioner through 2023

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The man who’s overseen Major League Soccer’s dramatic growth in revenue will stay in the job a while longer.

Don Garber has signed a deal to continue as MLS commissioner through 2023.

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The 61-year-old Garber has been on the job since 1999, when there were only a dozen teams in the league.

Despite his successes, Garber gets more headlines for his missteps like the sloppy handling of the Columbus Crew situation. There is little doubt, however, that he’s done well for the owners of his league, which has progressed on-and-off-the-field under his watch.

Garber was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2018. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2014, and is now cancer free.

Major League Soccer unveils 27th team: Austin FC

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Major League Soccer has formally unveiled its 27th team, Austin FC.

The Anthony Precourt-owned team puts MLS one franchise away from its self-imposed maximum of 28.

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Precourt unsuccessfully tried to relocate his Columbus Crew to Austin before working his way into an expansion team.

He insists Austin FC will have local investment, and that pleases MLS commissioner Don Garber. From The Austin Statesman:

“We will shortly be announcing that we’ll be welcoming in local Austin partners into our ownership group,” Precourt said. “I’ve had very productive conversations over the last year, and we have very strong interest in a great lineup of local Austinites that will be part of this going forward.”

“If not for those plans, we probably wouldn’t be here today,” Garber told the Statesman. “The final ownership structure will be one that would satisfy our real strong desire and preference to have our clubs have local roots.”

Austin joins Nashville and Miami as announced expansion teams, and AFC will begin play in 2021.

Home of the University of Texas and a myriad of popular musical acts like Spoon, Explosions in the Sky, and The Sword, Texas’ capital is an attractive spot for MLS and will have built-in rivalry capabilities between Houston and Dallas (with San Antonio a long-rumored MLS flirtation).

MLS will almost certainly expand beyond 28 teams, with Charlotte, San Diego, and Detroit among the league’s long-term targets.

Also of note: Alexi Lalas played guitar.

Garber wants MLS to become more of ‘selling league’

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ATLANTA (AP) The commissioner of Major League Soccer wants his teams to get in the selling business.

In his annual state of the league address leading up to the MLS Cup final, Don Garber said the transfer deals that sent teenagers Alphonso Davies and Tyler Adams to the German Bundesliga should be a model for all clubs.

“We need to become more of a selling league,” Garber said Friday at a downtown Atlanta hotel. “We’ve been buying for so long. But as we’ve gone through the analysis, it’s hard to justify the investment we’ve made in players and the investment we’ve made in domestic development. We have to have something that turns the model around or it’s going to be unsustainable.”

Davies, an 18-year-old Canadian who played this season for the Vancouver Whitecaps, is joining Bayern Munich as part of an MLS record $22 million transfer. Nineteen-year-old midfielder Tyler Adams of the New York Red Bulls also is moving to the Bundesliga, moving to sister club RB with Leipzig under a five-year arrangement.

Garber noted that Atlanta United, which is hosting the title game against the Portland Timbers , could be exploring transfer deals for stars such as league MVP Josef Almiron and Miguel Almiron.

“In world soccer, players get sold,” the commissioner said. “If something happens in Atlanta, I’m sure they will do whatever they can to have higher attendance and even more popularity next year, even if they sell one of their stars.”

Garber also signaled a new playoff format next season. A likely change is from two-legged series in the conference semifinals and finals to a total knockout format hosted by teams with the better record. That probably would move the MLS Cup back to November for the first time since 2011.

“We want to make the regular season more and more important, where winning in March is as important as winning in September and October,” he said. “The system we’re looking at will place a very, very high emphasis on the regular season.”

Atlanta United has shattered most MLS attendance records during its first two years, averaging more than 53,000 per game this season. Another mark is expected to fall Saturday night with a projected crowd of 73,000 for the championship match.

Garber said Atlanta and the Seattle Sounders, both of which share large stadiums with NFL teams, have given the league reason to look beyond its normal model of wanting teams with soccer-only stadiums that seat around 20,000.

The Sounders averaged more than 40,000 per game in 2018. No other team reached 27,000, and only a handful even had the capacity to reach that level.

“Every now and then, you have something that shocks you,” Garber said. “What happened in Seattle (which entered the league in 2009) was the first example of that. What happened here in Atlanta continues to astound me. We’re more open to thinking about it. We have two examples of success with large stadiums. But the model is still focused on smaller stadiums.”

Garber said a key to Atlanta’s success was making United feel like a joint partner with the NFL’s Falcons in $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium, a retractable-roof facility that opened last year.

Each team has its own locker room with all the bells and whistles. The stands were designed to accommodate both a football field and the wider soccer pitch. The football lines are removed from the artificial turf for all United games.

“Arthur Blank and his organization have embraced this team and put it on par with the way his family looks at the football team,” Garber said of United’s owner. “When I walked into the stadium, I saw a giant painting of a United player right next to a giant painting of a Falcons player. They’ve managed to find ways to share the building, rather than make United a tenant in the building. That’s something to look at moving forward.”

The league will grow to 24 teams next season with the addition of an expansion franchise in Cincinnati , while Nashville, Tennessee, and Miami are scheduled to come aboard in 2020.

The Miami club, led by David Beckham , has endured a tortuous search to find a site for a new stadium, but Garber said approval last month from the city’s voters on a proposed development adjacent to Miami International Airport is a major step toward finally getting the long-planned franchise to the playing field.

MLS is also planning a 27th franchise in Austin, Texas, which was initially set to be the new home of the Columbus Crew. MLS is working to finalize a deal with the Haslem family, which owns the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, that would keep a team in Ohio’s capital city and lead to a new downtown stadium .

Garber said MLS is likely to grant a 28th franchise in the next year. St. Louis, Phoenix, Detroit and Sacramento, California, are among the contenders.

Whoever is left out in this round of expansion may not have to wait long for another shot at a franchise. Garber said he expects the owners to begin discussing the feasibility of taking the league beyond a 28-team alignment at a board meeting next week.

“I don’t anticipate an announcement coming out of that,” the commissioner said. “But there’s no doubt in my mind that we can support more than 28 teams in Major League Soccer.”

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry

For more AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Lamar Hunt’s legacy looms large over Garber’s HOF induction

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FRISCO, Texas (AP) Back in 1999, NFL team owners Lamar Hunt and Robert Kraft approached Don Garber and asked if he might be interested in serving as commissioner of Major League Soccer.

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The domestic soccer league was in trouble in just its fourth year, and at the time Garber was head of NFL International.

Garber mulled the proposition before ultimately taking the job. Now nearing two decades at the MLS helm, Garber is guiding an ever-expanding league that is set to field 26 teams by 2020.

Garber will be enshrined in the National Soccer Hall of Fame at Toyota Stadium, the home of FC Dallas, this weekend. Originally selected for the honor in 2016, Garber put off his addition until now for a simple reason.

Lamar Hunt.

“Probably more important than just his role in bringing me here, Lamar is really one of the true legends in the sports industry. He had such grace and such humility, and such a passion for the sports industry, but really a deep passion for the sport of soccer,” Garber said. “As a young man in my early days at MLS, I was in such awe everything that he was – not just what he accomplished, but how he thought about life, and how he thought about the commitment needed to make the game permanent and indelible in this country.”

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The story goes that Hunt was inspired to promote soccer in the United States after attending the World Cup in 1966. He founded the North American Soccer League in 1967. He was instrumental in bringing the World Cup to the United States in 1994. And he was a founding investor in MLS.

Hunt, who owned the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs and FC Dallas and the Columbus Crew, passed away in 2006. One of his last big projects was to open Toyota Stadium. So it was in his memory that his family partnered with U.S. Soccer, the city and Frisco Independent School District and announced plans in 2015 for a new National Soccer Hall of Fame to be built at the stadium.

Garber put off his induction so he could be enshrined at the new Hall of Fame, which also allows him to further honor Hunt.

“When I was told that I was going to be inducted, at that point I knew that the Hall was being built and I just thought it would be a really special opportunity for me, and really, Major League Soccer, to have a close MLS connection with the Hall,” Garber said. “And it would give me an opportunity to honor the memory of Lamar and to really make a strong statement on how indebted I am and how MLS is to the Hunt family overall.”

The Hall of Fame was established in 1979 and for a time was located in Oneonta, New York. It was closed in 2010, but inductions continued. The collection was stored in North Carolina.

“We just thought it would be a fitting way to honor everything he did for the sport, while also giving the sport of soccer and the Hall of Fame, that celebrates all the great players, a really outstanding home,” eldest son Clark Hunt said.

Garber tells the story of seeing Hunt at the 2002 World Cup match between the United States and Portugal. Hunt was seated in the stands and following the U.S. upset victory, Garber glanced over and saw Hunt had a tear in his eye.

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“When we were both leaving the stadium I said, `Boy, Lamar, you looked quite emotional.’ And he said it was one of the great sporting experiences of his life. And this was a guy who won the Super Bowl,” Garber said.

Garber asked Clark Hunt to introduce him at the induction ceremony Saturday.

“Our family does have a 30-year relationship with Don, going back to his time with the NFL,” Clark Hunt said. “He and my dad were very close, and my dad played a critical role in luring him from the NFL over to Major League Soccer, where he became commissioner. And I know he’s very excited that the Hall is going to be associated with one of the stadiums and teams my father was involved in.”

In addition to his role as commissioner, Garber is also CEO of Soccer United Marketing, the exclusive marketing partner of U.S. Soccer, and a member of the U.S. Soccer Federation board of directors.

Joining him in the Hall of Fame this year is a trio of former U.S. national team players, Tiffeny Milbrett, Brad Friedel and Cindy Parlow Cone, as well as former U.S. Soccer President Bob Contiguglia. Veteran broadcaster JP Dellacamera is the 2018 Colin Jose media award recipient.

The new Hall opens to the public on Nov. 2.