Monday, October 09, 2006

Big Soccer Interviews Don Garber.

The Godfather of MLS sat down with the folks at Big Soccer and answered member submitted questions covering the full gamut of topics regarding MLS. Most of these questions have been beaten like a dead horse time and time again on Big Soccer, and if you don’t check the multitude of topics over there, I suggest that you do, some are funny and some are informative.

Anyways, I pulled two questions out of the interview along with the answers, two that I was most interested in what Don Garber had to say. You can find the first part of the interview here and the second part here.

"What information can you provide in regards to the MFL/MLS tournament (CONCACAF Champions League?) next summer?

COMMISSIONER ANSWER: Our plan is to announce the proposed competition between MLS and Mexican First Division clubs by the end of the year. We anticipate that the competition will feature MLS versus Mexican First Division clubs in a European Champions League format. Games are likely to take place mid-week with a small rollout in 2007 and a full tournament in 2008 and beyond. . Like most of you, we want to see our clubs continue to raise their level of play. This competition, along with the CONCACAF Champions Cup, provides another means for clubs to test themselves against regional competition."

I am very interested in exactly how this thing will work. First is the basics of the tournament. MLS will have 13 clubs next season, the Mexican Premiera Division will have 18. Will all of MLS eventually play just the top 13 clubs? How about when MLS moves to 16 clubs, will the bottom two Mexican clubs be omitted from this tournament?

The format is interesting as well. As announced at the All Star match, MLS will move away from the Saturday afternoon matches and have a Thursday night “Soccer Night” match on ESPN2 every Thursday. With Thursday night league matches going on, how will the midweek MLS/MFL matches be scheduled? I am wonder about this concerning the CONCACAF Champions Cup as well, but as that tournament only has two MLS clubs involved, those two clubs can just have CCC matches on Wednesday’s and then not be scheduled for the Thursday slot until the tournament is over. The MLS/MFL tournament will be a little different. However, when the actual format is released, we should know more here.

Is there going to truly be anything up for grabs with this tournament? Right now, the CCC is the only venue that MLS and MFL clubs have to play competitive matches against each other. With this new tournament, unless there is actually a goal at the end of the road, will it really just be a series of friendlies? Grant Wahl wrote a piece for CNN/SI that mentioned that down the line it is thought that the winner would get a spot in the Copa Libertadores, which would be beneficial to the performances in the tournament.

All in all, the fact that Don Garber has actually mentioned the tournament and has given us a rough time frame for the real announcement and roll out is a plus for us all. I am looking forward to attending matched at RFK between DC United and Mexican clubs.

"There is near-unanimous consensus amongst MLS fans and the soccer media alike that having eight teams in the playoffs both cheapens the value of the regular season and makes a mockery of the "prize" of qualifying for the postseason. Why does MLS continue to stick to this system despite the overwhelming opinion that cutting the number of teams in half would increase the quality of the season and the playoffs?

COMMISSIONER ANSWER: One benefit to having eight teams qualify is the playoff race, particularly in a League that does not have a relegation battle for its lower-placed teams. The current playoff race involved all 12 teams until last Saturday, when Columbus became the first team eliminated from contention for the postseason. It is intriguing to have the defending champion still knocking at the door, making the other Western Conference teams sweat; it’s compelling to have Kansas City and New York gearing up for a memorable regular-season finale that will decide the final spot in the East. That said, we are listening to what fans are saying (see research I mentioned in Question #8) and we are considering a number of options moving forward. We expect to have more news on this subject following our Board of Governors meeting at MLS Cup."

The very funny thing about this comment is that through all of the bitching and moaning that I and several other people have done through out the season about how the playoffs are a joke and the format is crap, I never saw the format from this point of view. Don Garber actually makes a point here with that idea that in a league without relegation, having all clubs in the fight for the playoffs near the end of the season does make every match count.

You look at the NFL and MLB. Those leagues have teams at the end of the season damn near throwing their games, because they are putting guys on the field to get the experience. You always hear around the mid point in the season that some teams are in rebuilding years. You never really hear about that in soccer. You do in MLS because it is in the US and we all feel that if you are not on top, you are rebuilding.

Do I still have a problem with the current playoff system? Yes. I do think that once the league has more clubs, say around 16, the format will make more sense and it will reward clubs for going strong the whole season. Until that happens, MLS will always be a second half league.


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