Highlights from MLS commission Don Garber's preseason press conference today:
*Begins with sympathy for those affected by the earthquake and tsumani in Japan and implies possible chartity support.
*Says league going through "a period of pretty good growth" through expansion and investors. Cites movement to go as becoming one of the top soccer leagues in the world.
*Cites Northwest expansion of of the top stories of the coming season. Notes "trifecta of three great teams" in Seatle, Portland, Vancouver. Notes the newcomers are capping their season ticket allotments, with Portland already having done so. Says Vancouver "could be leading commercial team" in terms of sponsorship revenue.
Never miss a local story.
* Cites increased roster sizes as key part of "competition initiatives." Also nods to home-grown players and the revival of the reserve league. Says expansion hasn't diluted the league's play. Partly due to off-season signings.
* League has "key points of emphasis" for competition this season. Starts with off-sides rule, which will be called with "benefit given to attacking soccer" called only "when absolutely certain than an offsides exists." Also wants to discourage studs-up challenges. Wants holding and pushing penalized in the penalty area.
* Says league still in growth mode. Montreal next year. New stadium in Kansas City. Will announce "major international opponent" for MLS All-Star game and international club tournament with MLS teams to be announced by end of this month.
In Q&A portion says
* No intent of "league's center of gravity" shifting to the West. Says more expansion to East Coast will round out the league's geography and restates interest in placing a team in the Southeast.
* Praises Sounders keeper Kasey Keller as good ambassador to the league.
* Says he's not concerned about lack of Americans on field at certain times by certain teams.
* Feels sorry Montreal needs to play out another NASL season before joining MLS next season, but felt it was in best interest of league not to expand by three this season.
* "Rivalries are a big part of the DNA of football overseas" and is hoping league can learn lessons from what is driving interest of Northwest fans in "participating in something that's bigger than just their team." Hopes to do that with I-95 corridor teams New England, New York, Philadelphia and DC, and the Rocky Mountain teams RSL and Colorado. Can it be created, or must is just happen naturally.
* Says league has considered and probably will offer "more benefit" for winning Supporters Shield, and thinks that won't devalue playoffs or MLS Cup.
* Cites average MLS age as 25 as disproving European perception of MLS as a "retirement league."
* Admits league needs to "grow its television ratings if we are to achieve our goals." Admits didn't foresee the growth of television coverage of other world leagues as competition to MLS viewing. But cites good games and more dates on ESPN, including friendlies against international clubs. Also cites "good partnership with the Fox Soccer Channel" despite disagreement on the value of the product. Finally also notes increase in digital availabilities of games on computer or iPads, etc.
* Praises Kraft family as important MLS voice. However, notes their challenges in finding a more appropriate stadium. Yes says he believes that is an "if," not a "when." Says with a downtown stadium, Boston could become Seattle.
* Says he values supporters groups are valued and important to the league ... even if they don't always agree with league decisions. ... And he cites the expansion to 10 playoff participants as an example of that.
* Seems ambivalent about fondness for NASL despite the fact that its one-time popularity was followed by a crash. Yet admits media in Vancouver seemed to cherish the memories of the NASL Whitecaps. But adds that such nostalgia is among older demographic and not the base fans the league hopes to attract.
* Follows up on that by calling New York Cosmos "a very exciting re-launch" of on old brand. Their that group's entry in to MLS is "very preliminary."