Sounders FC players such as Fredy Montero and Steve Zakuani received some indirect good news Friday, as commissioner Don Garber announced several “areas of emphasis” for the coming season – each designed to reward attacking soccer.
That starts with a more generous interpretation of the offside rule.
“Obviously, we’re not trying to change the law, only to refresh – if you will – the prevailing approach to how offside is called by our officials,” Garber during a preseason conference call with league media. “We’re hoping to have a benefit given to attacking soccer, and that our officials will only call offside if they’re absolutely certain that an offside has occurred.”
When offside is called, the league wants flags to be raised quicker in order to spare players unnecessary runs and collisions.
The league also wants to crack down on studs-up tackles.
“We’re also trying to reward attacking soccer so that players who are subjected to frequent fouls – even those that aren’t called in favor of applying an advantage concept – have got to be better protected,” Garber said. “In this context, any player that is continually committing fouls against the same opposing player will be cautioned for persistent infringement, where separately those individual offenses wouldn’t have drawn additional sanction.”
That could be particularly good news for Montero, who has been among the three most-fouled players over his two seasons in MLS.
Finally, the league also wants to crack down on manhandling of offensive players in the penalty area during set pieces – something that drew complaints but few whistles during the 2010 World Cup.
“You know, verbal warnings without punishment just hasn’t been working for us,” Garber said. “We want, in an instance where players are held, clutched or dragged down in the box that penalty kicks are going to be called.”
Garber will get a firsthand look at how the changes affect the game Tuesday, when he will be at Qwest Field to watch Seattle and Los Angeles play the MLS opener.
Looking ahead to the new season, Garber also said:
• The “three great teams” in Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver is the top story of the coming MLS season. All three Northwest clubs will cap their allotment of season tickets. The Timbers already have done so, and Garber said Vancouver “could be the leading commercial team” in terms of sponsorship revenue.
• The league remains “in growth mode.” He cited the new soccer stadium in Kansas City, and Montreal’s addition to the league in 2012.
• He regrets Montreal having to play another NASL season before joining MLS but said it was in the league’s best interest not to expand by three this season.
• Before the month is out, the league will announce a “major international opponent” for the MLS All-Star game and an international club tournament with MLS teams.
• MLS probably will offer “more benefit” for winning the Supporters’ Shield – without devaluing the playoffs or MLS Cup.
• The league must improve its TV ratings. To that end, he cited better games and more dates on ESPN, including friendlies against international clubs. He also cited a “good partnership with the Fox Soccer Channel,” despite so far not being able to negotiate a new broadcast contract beyond this season.
• A new stadium in New England is a matter of “when,” not “if.” He added that with a downtown stadium, Boston “could become Seattle.”
• Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller, who is beginning what is his final professional season, has been a good ambassador for the league.