Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber gave something of a state-of-the-league conference call today, and clearly he was in a Northwest frame of mind.
Garber called last week "one of the more exciting weeks in league history," and all of the excitement was in the Northwest: awarding an expansion to Vancouver on Wednesday (see video above), the Sounders' opener on Thursday, and awarding an expansion team to Portland on Wednesday.
"That's going to create a rivalry that we think is going to change the landscape of soccer in the United States and Canada," Garber said. "It's going to provide for us a very, very concentrated competitive environment both on and off the field that we think drives the sport in other parts of the world. .... We can't wait to get all three of those teams on the field."
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Garber's enthusiasm for the coming Northwest rivalries echoed that of Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer.
"Absolutely thrilled," Hanauer said Monday. "I was talking to (Vancouver and Portland owners) all weekend about their ticket sales. … Deposits are brisk. They've sold a lot of season tickets for the USL team as well, as part of the ability to get first in line for MLS season tickets. It's off to a racing start in those cities. I think they'll sell out all of their games in those two markets."
Garber said Vancouver sold 5,000 season ticket deposits in its first 48 hours, an MLS record.
The 2011 expansion will bring MLS up to 18 franchises. Garber said it isn't yet decided whether the league will continue with a balanced schedule, which would mean 34 games if each team played each other team home and away. However, the league also could go to an unbalanced schedule, which would increase the number of geographic rivalry games.
Garber also suggested MLS could split into three six-team divisions. That scenario could create a very appealing Western Division: Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, San Jose and the two Los Angeles teams: the Galaxy and Chivas USA.
Philadelphia joins the league next season as a 16th member. Garber said the league will eventually expand to at least 20 teams, perhaps as early as 2012.
Ottawa and St. Louis, which failed to land teams in the most recent round of expansion while respectively trying to settle stadium and ownership issues, remain contenders. Garber also said the league is interested in adding a second franchise in the New York area. Atlanta, Montreal, Miami and Tampa Bay also have been considered in past expansion studies.
Garber also said MLS will consider a variety of methods to increase both home-grown and international talent to help ensure that the league's level of play keeps pace with the addition of the new teams.
A few other highlights from Garber's hour-long question-and-answer session:
*MLS averaged 3.14 goals per game over the opening week. That's a record, but Garber said he doesn't expect to continue.
* Business is secure and the foundation if laid for the long term. So the league is turning increased attention to quality of play.
* Garber refuted the belief that MLS' best players invariably leave for better leagues. He said 53 over the last season's 56 all-stars or award winners are back this season. And, he also mentioned the infusion of talent coming into the league, including Seattle's Kasey Keller, Freddy Ljungberg and Fredy Montero. He especially cited Montero as an example of the league's solid scouting in Central and South America.
* Finally, said the league kicked off its season on the same day that the NCAA tournament tipped off because there is simply "no good time when you're the last kid of the block." He said the date wasn't chosen by accident, and they didn't like the conflict, but they couldn't come up with anything better.