MLS

Playoffs a welcome respite for The Soccer Don

Photo: Earl Gardner

Probably the last thing a Philadelphia Union fan wants to hear about right now is the MLS Cup Playoffs, but for Don Garber and Major League Soccer, they are coming at just the right time.

Garber and the league have endured a difficult month off the pitch.

  • It started with MLS’s rebrand, wrapped up as MLSNext. The vision for the future was the good part, the logo not-so-much. It’s grown on me some, but it was largely met with tepid response.
  • The admission of the Chivas USA failure, selling the team to a conglomerate including Cardiff City chairman Vincent Tan. After their final match, the team will go on hiatus for at least 2 years and re-emerge branded anew. It’s a cultured way to fold a failed enterprise.
  • Further questions into the independence of media were raised with the firing of Colorado Rapids’ beat writer Chris Bianchi. Bianchi, a meteorologist by trade working part-time for MLSSoccer.com, was vocal against the Rapids’ Front Office on his personal Twitter feed, leading to his dismissal. The ugly details were brought to light by Deadspin earlier this week.
  • The confiscation of “negative” tifo displays at PPL Park (using the words of Nick Sakiewicz himself).
  • And finally, depending upon your view of the league, Don Garber’s fervent rebuttal to US Men’s National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann. A strident league supporter would give it a hearty, “You go, Don!” while those who found some truth in Klinsmann’s declarations might consider Garber’s response overzealous.

I’m not sure there is anything extremely surprising here, though. Chivas USA was running on empty, and I have harped on that awhile. Rebrands are tough and don’t often impress on the first pass.

What the final three bullet points do provide is an unflattering view of the leadership in MLS in which stifling dissent is the common theme. While they have the power to do so, it’s not always wise to act in those situations.

In the final case, Klinsmann has no real say in the league. Yes, he could implore players to stay in Europe, and even threaten their place on the men’s national team if they return. But wouldn’t he have already done that? Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley are the two poster boys for this, but instead Klinsmann sat by while arguably the two top American players returned to MLS in the midst of a World Cup year.

Garber’s attitude is one showing the signs of new pressure being added to the weight of being the MLS Commissioner. The job has never been more difficult than heading into next year, even when he had to contract two teams early in his term. With every stressor already accounted for, Garber didn’t expect Klinsmann to return to the subtle digs at his league’s quality.

All of this negative drama has come in the dog days of the MLS season. The final six weeks are often a grind. The transfer window has closed, so the prospects of splashy signings and photo ops with familiar faces have gone. It becomes easy for off-the-pitch developments to grab headlines over match results.

The MLS Cup Playoffs bring to the front the idea of soccer that means something. That should dominate the discussion for the next month, which must bring relief to the Commissioner.

But he will have to cherish it while it lasts. It will be a quick playoff season for Garber, with a gigantic offseason ahead.

In addition to the normal offseason drafts, MLS will also have an Expansion Draft to begin to build the rosters for New York City and Orlando City.  The new television contract begins in 2015 as well, with heightened dollars (and presumably expectations for the on-field product). Oh, and let’s not forget that the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the MLS Players Association is up.

So for Garber, these playoffs are an oasis. It’s been an arduous month leading up to them, and the period following may be even tougher.

6 Comments

  1. I have a lot of faith in Garber (unlock some other, closer to home executives). He’s not perfect, but overall he’s done a good job of overseeing the slow rise of the league. I think he’ll negotiate through all these current challenges just fine.

  2. I’ll tell you what, the anti-expression stuff better stop right away if this league is going to establish any kind of credibility. That’s one of the hardest things for business people to understand. You can’t run a company that relies on good will and participation from the public like it’s the NSA.

    Ask should apologize to the “victims” of tifogate and get them free tickets to something. They should pledge to the Sons of Ben a willingness to allow for respectful dissent and encourage open dialog.

    Bianchi should get his job back today. And MLS should apologize.

    That kind of relationship with fans is worth millions.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      Agreed +1. I’m fairly certain I’ve learned one thing about us Americans: We do NOT take kindly to being told we can’t do something… especially when it’s voice our displeasure.

  3. So the union didn’t make the playoffs. Big deal. The Union made the US Open Cup final. To me that is a big deal. Yeah the regular season was tough but I enjoyed almost every home game this season. MLS teams have three competitions they can play in MLS regular season and CUP, CCL and US Open Cup. Tell me how great is that situation. Enough of my tangent.
    Don has done well leading the MLS. I kind of understand the stifling of dissent but I don’t like it. Dissent adds to the atmosphere. Can’t wait for next season.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      I also agree here too. I think Garber has done a good job. Here’s to next year being even bigger and better.

  4. I think we’re entering…dare I say it…MLS 3.0. The Don has done a good job of managing the single entity system. All the maddening, arbitrary, smoke and mirrors managment served a purpose. It kept afloat a fledgling league and prevented a repeat of the meteoric rise and fall of the original NASL of the late 70’s.
    .
    Now, money is flooding to the league. Foreign ownership and world-class players are coming. Collective bargaining looms large. The NEXT big thing will be how the league gains legitimacy. In my opinion, they have to become more transparent.

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