Two days from the start of a new season, MLS commissioner Don Garber held his annual state-of-the league news conference today.
Here are some of the highlights:
*Garber said he believes MLS has established itself as the United State’s fifth major league. He noted an ESPN poll that found soccer the country’s second most popular professional sport among those ages 12-24.
*The MLS salary cap makes it the most balanced pro sport not just in the U.S., but in the world. “Every MLS team at the start of the season has a belief it can win a championship,” Garber said.
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*Montreal’s entry raises the number of franchises to 19. A second New York team has long been considered likely for No. 20. Garber said once a stadium plan is settled there, he expects the expansion fee to reach $100 million. Orlando also has become a top of contender if the league expands its footprint into the Southeast.
*The league’s broadcast rights with ESPN and Univision expire after 2014. However, Garber described them as long-term partners.
*The league wants to cut down on both diving and dangerous challenges.
The first kicks of this MLS season will be shared by Vancouver and Colorado. The Whitecaps will play host to new expansion rivals Montreal, while Columbus will visit the Rapids. Both games kick off at 3 p.m. Saturday. Later in the day, Kansas City visits D.C. United, New England visits San Jose, and Real Salt Lake visits defending MLS Cup champion Los Angeles.
The league makes its debut on new broadcast partner NBC Sports Network at noon Sunday: New York at Dallas.
New this season is an unbalanced schedule that emphasizes geographic rivalries, a new playoff system of five teams per conference, and an MLS Cup final to be played on the home field of the higher-ranked participant.
The league also will add soccer-specific stadiums in Montreal and Houston.