By FRANCO PANIZO
NEW YORK – MLS commissioner Don Garber was standing in front of a herd of media members to discuss the addition of New York City FC on Wednesday and in his hands was a dark handkerchief that he used to wipe off sweat from his forehead.
The questions Garber was answering weren’t the reason for the perspiration – the quaint room with a kid-sized soccer field at the top of P.S. 72 in East Harlem was – but his responses to them revealed quite a bit about what MLS may look like in the near future.
Naturally, the subject that most of the talk revolved around was NYCFC and their hiring of Claudio Reyna as director of football. Garber touched on those topics as well as another of interest: the future home of New York City FC, which Garber said the club, not MLS, will be in charge of securing from this point forward.
“The league spent over a year working with the city of New York to try to reach an agreement on having an MLS team, our 20th team, playing in Flushing Meadows Corona Park,” said Garber. “Recently, as we were on a parallel path negotiating with (NYCFC owners) Manchester City, we realized that an owner should take over those negotiations. It wouldn’t have been right for the team, and frankly, it might not have been the right thing for the community, for the league to finalize an agreement before they had an opportunity to meet the ownership group.
“Now, that ownership group owns the team. They can go out and tell their story, they can listen as well as talk about all the great things that they’ve done and what they plan to do, talk about the contributions they were going to make to the park. They couldn’t talk about that because they didn’t own the team. This, to us, is a perfect scenario for them to continue the discussions on. If they decide that it’s not a stadium location that makes sense, they’ll have to find another location and the league is comfortable with that. We needed to hand over these discussions from the league to an owner, who will ultimately be the community partner.”
Garber also talked about the blowback that MLS’s recent soccer-specific stadium search yielded from several corners of the New York metro area. The 55-year-old Queens native expressed confidence in that having a face behind the team’s ownership group, which also includes the New York Yankees, will help NYCFC find a viable short-term option and a long-term solution.
“I think that the community doesn’t understand the team, they don’t understand the management and they have never met and were never able to go out and tell their story, so some of the issues that existed did not surprise us.” said Garber, who was also referencing some of the gender and human rights concerns that some have had with Manchester City’s owners. “Now, they’ll have an opportunity to go out and meet them and I am absolutely convinced when they meet members of the Manchester City board, when they meet the players, when they meet their management, when they meet Claudio, they will not just be comfortable but they will embrace them.
“This I am for sure of.”
Inevitably, Garber was questioned as to why having a pair of teams in the New York market would be any different than having two in Los Angeles, where the LA Galaxy have been a rousing success both on and off the field while Chivas USA have struggled for mediocrity.
Garber acknowledged that Chivas USA has not worked in Los Angeles but added that the dynamics behind the City of Angels and New York are entirely distinct. He also dispelled recent rumors of MLS trying to takeover the club and Chivas USA’s ownership group being open to selling the team, which seems to indicate that the Goats will be in MLS for the foreseeable future.
“Anything you’ve heard is absolute nonsense,” said Garber. “However that report came out of Mexico, it’s irresponsible, it’s unprofessional and, frankly, that kind of reporting shouldn’t exist in your industry. We have no plans to take over that team. That being said, we want them to get better and we believe the situation there is not positive, not positive for them and their fans.
“I’ve spoken to (Chivas USA owners Jorge Vergara and Angelica Fuentes), met with them and they took over this team from their partner, the Cue family, 3-4 months ago and they had it for eight years,” added Garber. “They need some time and that’s basically what they’re saying. They’ve got a plan and they need some time to execute that plan. … They have expressed no interest in selling the team at all.”
Another hot topic Garber spoke about was future expansion. Garber said MLS had no preliminary timetable for adding teams and that its focus was instead on helping NYCFC find a home and helping out other teams in the league.
That may not seem to bode well for a club like Orlando City – which have been pushing hard for an MLS team for the better part of a year and have stated their target date to begin play in America’s top tier is 2015 – but Garber again mentioned Florida as a place for potential expansion in the somewhat near future.
“We’ve got to ensure that we find (NYCFC) the right place to play temporarily, ensure that they are making the right decisions in terms of their permanent home,” said Garber. “Then we’ll start, relatively soon, thinking about where we end up, in Florida or in other parts of the country.
“There’s more energy on expansion than there ever has been before. I’ve said in the past, we want to be sure we get it right and we’ve got a handful of clubs that have been here for a while that we’re working on to get them right.”