Q&A (Part II) with Commissioner Garber: New-era owners, scheduling, TV, Chivas & more
SI: I collect soccer scarves. I get a scarf from every game I go to. What’s your collection or your favorite soccer souvenir that you’ve acquired?
GARBER: I don’t have any souvenirs anymore, as commissioner. But when I lived over in Europe for a while [while working for the NFL], I traveled a lot and I used to buy balls – team-identified soccer balls. I’ve got a bunch of them in my house. I have old, antique balls in my house too, the old leather balls. But I’ve got way too much clutter in my house now. I’m downsizing. I’m on clutter probation.
SI: What’s the most memorable MLS moment, a game or goal, you’ve witnessed live?
GARBER: It was at the Portugal-U.S. game in Korea [at the 2002 World Cup]. It wasn’t an MLS moment. I’m smart enough not to say one of our teams, because than the Twittersphere will kill me. Anytime I say anything nice about a club, they kill me.
It was the U.S.-Portugal game. We won that game and I was sitting in better seats than Lamar Hunt. I was actually sitting next to [Abbott]. We looked up 15 rows behind us and there was Lamar Hunt with tears in his eyes. That was very memorable.
And I will say this. Almost every time we open up a new stadium, it kind of puts a little bit of a lump in my throat. Any time I’m in a stadium where I see massive groups of supporters, creating some of the images that they do, whether it’s in Portland or Seattle or D.C. or Philly or Vancouver or Toronto or wherever it might be, I kind of take a step back an say “Wow, this is pretty cool.”
SI: What soccer rule would you change? What would you change about the game?
GARBER: I can answer this one. I think about this a lot … I think we’ve got to work hard to eliminate all the clutching in the [penalty area]. We will look hard in the offseason at some of the pushing and shoving and clutching in the box.
It seems to me that some of the real dramatic moments that take place in a game are on corner kicks and we probably should work harder to clean up some of the clutching. The NHL had that issue in their game and they basically passed a rule and they eliminated it and goal scoring went up. While I love a 1-0 game as much as anybody else does, this is a game about dramatic moments and we should enforce the rules as the rules are meant to be enforced, which is that you can’t grab on and pull somebody down on a corner kick. That’s one of the things I would look hard to change going forward.
SI: Do you like the MLS logo? Don’t you think it’s kind of cheesy? That foot….
GARBER: Cheesy! [Laughs]. I think there are a lot of things that were created when the league was founded that were right for the time. Nobody expected the sport would evolve the way it has, right? It has embraced the international game in ways that nobody ever expected. Many of our teams have international brands and kits that are just much more aligned with the international standards. I think our logo probably could use a bit of evolution.
SI: What is your biggest success as commissioner?
GARBER: Expanding the ownership group.
GARBER: That’s a tough one. Whatever I say here’s just going to get me into trouble. I can’t wimp out here. “Failure” is probably not the right word, because it’s not a failure until it’s over, right?
ABBOTT: It was a challenge when we had to shut the teams down [Miami and Tampa Bay after the 2001 season] but that was part of an integrated plan to bring it back.
GARBER: Let’s call it a setback. That’s a good one. This will be provocative: We didn’t get it right, and still don’t have it right, with Chivas USA. My idea. It was my concept to get Vergara involved and expand his Guadalajara brand, and we didn’t execute it properly and I have told him that I take responsibility for that.
SI: You’re not the one firing coaches and team presidents every few months….
GARBER: It’s not a failure, because it’s not over yet. But I’m disappointed that we haven’t done better there.
SI: I think the idea of a team oriented toward the Latino market is a good one. But by slapping the Guadalajara crest on there, you wind up alienating half that potential fan base right away.
GARBER: I think it’s less that because I know people say that about Man City [and New York City FC]. It’s not about alienation. It was a good idea to have a Latino-themed and targeted team in L.A., which is a massive Hispanic market, and we have not executed it as well as it needed to be. We’ve had enough time. People should not blame Jorge Vergara. He’s a bright, passionate guy who loves this country and loves the game. This is hard business. It’s hard to be right and sometimes you get some momentum in the wrong direction and it can be a spiral that is hard to turn around.
SI: The [discrimination] lawsuit certainly doesn’t help the public perception.
GARBER: No question.
SI: You mentioned Man City. Is that relationship something you’re monitoring? You mentioned that video [of City players kicking a ball around NYC]. As fun as that video was, I had one friend say to me that it would’ve been so much better if they used local kids, or players from St. John’s and other schools. Vincent Kompany and Kun Agüero are awesome, but they’ve got no ties to New York. Where’s the line there?
GARBER: We have to be very mindful that we have a number of great things going on with the New York City team. It starts with very committed owners who really want Major League Soccer to succeed, with a strong rival for the Red Bulls and a CEO in Ferran Soriano, who is brilliant. When you put those things together, we have a pretty good formula for success. But we have to be careful that we don’t make the same mistakes that we made with Chivas Guadalajara and Chivas USA, and I’m convinced that all of us will be very mindful of it.