MLS commissioner talks relegation, NYCFC and replay

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As Major League Soccer continues to become more popular than ever, Commissioner Don Garber spoke to The Post at NYCFC House, the MLS club’s pop-up shop:

Q: Has the recent success of lower-level teams like FC Cincinnati or Miami FC in the U.S. Open Cup swayed your opinion on promotion versus relegation in the U.S. soccer pyramid?

A: [Shakes head] This is not just about how good a team is on any given day, it’s about what are we trying to do to create a long-lasting, strong and valuable professional sports league for a lifetime. So I don’t at all get distracted by anything that might happen on any particular day. I look at the viability of our league today, which is driven by $4 billion of investment and I’m focused on ensuring that that $4 billion grows to many more billions and that ultimately the league continues to thrive, have a growing fan base, growing television ratings and create, say, a foundation for just a better, more valuable soccer nation overall here in U.S. and academy.

Q: Earlier this week, Sporting Kansas City defender Erik Palmer-Brown, 20, reportedly signed a pre-contract with Manchester City. Although he rarely played, he was still grabbed by one of the world’s top teams. Kansas City has two center backs that have been staples in their system for years. Does Targeted Allocation Money or General Allocation Money hurt younger players in MLS?

A: I don’t think so. … I look at Erik Palmer-Brown, who was a very good MLS player and had a great experience in Kansas City and [Manchester] City sees something in him that will be good for his career, and I think it’s a good story for MLS. You can be a U.S. National Team player, play in our league and maybe get signed by one of the top clubs in the world. I don’t think there’s any impact in TAM or anything like that that played a part in that at all, at least that I see.

Q: Since MLS introduced VAR (video assistant referee) earlier this summer, some fouls have been missed because referees haven’t used the assistance. Will the league start to reprimand referees for not using VAR?

A: I don’t think it’s reprimanded. I think what needs to happen is that they need to go as they’ve been doing even before VAR, have game review, game assessments, be able to get together and look at what drove a decision to go to VAR and what was the decision not to go to VAR. But at the end of the year, Peter Walton (the general manager of the Professional Referee Organization) and (manager of VAR operations) Howard Webb will work with all of our officials and have a very comprehensive review. But I feel so good about where they are now in the early phases that I think it’ll only get better, but it’s done pretty well.

New York City FC fans cheer on their team at Yankee Stadium.Noah K. Murray

Q: How does MLS keep its best youth players in the league without them getting minutes on first-teams?

A: Well, we don’t really know what his opportunities will be to play in Man City either. So I think that question needs to be asked a year or two from now. Maybe he becomes a starting player for Man City. The fact that he wasn’t able to be a regular starter in Kansas City speaks to the quality of the Sporting Kansas City team and its system and maybe it will be better for his career to be in England for a while. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the beginning of a pattern or it’s indicative of anything other than it seems to have worked in this particular situation.


Q: Is there a prototype for how a team should be constructed in MLS?

A: The league has absolutely no specific direction to any of our clubs. Each team needs to create their own brand, on and off the field. Atlanta has decided to do it through young, international Designated Players and a great, young Andrew Carleton. Minnesota decided to do it with a bunch of players that they signed internationally and a bunch of MLS players and even players from the USL (United Soccer League) and NASL (North American Soccer League). Each team needs to come up with their own formula for success and then I think time will determine what’s the best path for success. I think that’s very driven by your market, the strategy you have to grow a fan base and ultimately to create a winning tradition.

Q: What has impressed you about NYCFC since they joined MLS in 2015?

A: NYCFC has been just fantastic from the top down. I think (CEO) Ferran Soriano is one of the top executives in global football. They’ve got an incredibly strong local leader in (president) Jon Patricof. (Coach) Patrick (Vieira) is somebody who I have tremendous respect for in his commitment and loyalty to the team and the league is something that warms my heart. I look at their brand and the way they’ve built their fan base, the way they run their charitable programs and marketing programs and I really think it’s a great model for success in our league.

Q: But what about playing at Yankee Stadium?

A: You know, Yankee Stadium has been great for where we are today. It’s a terrific partnership. One of the key drivers of this club is the relationship they have with (Yankees president) Randy Levine and the Yankees and the fact that they can play in Yankee Stadium, arguably one of the world’s most iconic stadiums, that it’s so accessible and it’s literally an iconic location for the five boroughs. I think, you know, when you’re launching a new team nothing is perfect, but we wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for the relationship with the Yankees.



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