Don Garber held his annual State of the League teleconference this morning/afternoon. After a subsequent Q&A session the thing lasted about an hour and a half. I’ll try to hit on some of the highlights here:
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— After opening up with general comments about being in Toronto for the MLS Cup, Garber said it would be good to see a new team add a star to their jerseys. Neither Dallas or Colorado have ever won a championship.
— Next up he started talking about homegrown players. 20 players from team academies — which he called “the future of our league” — saw first-team action in 2010. Team are given incentives to produce homegrown players from the academies and the competition committee is going to recommend removing a limit on how many players can be signed to the first team.
— Then he mentioned growing commercial success, including sponsorships with Continental Tires and Castrol. Garber expects to announce a couple more jersey sponsors in the next month or so and says each team in the league will have one in a year. Those jerseys sponsorships produce between 20-30 million dollars. Consumer products are up 15-percent.
— Garber mentioned the $2.55 million salary cap isn’t really a “cap” and most teams spend about $3.5-4 million on salary, but fit under the number by using allocation money and the DP rule.
— The league is working with U.S. Soccer to establish a development task force for officiating to help improve the standard of officiating.
— Roster sizes will be increased to 30 next season, up from 26 this year. Many of those final spots will be for young players that don’t count against the cap. The reserve league will also return in 2011, with divisions and a 10-game schedule. Players eligible in those games include roster players, players on trial and academy players.
— The 2011 regular season will start mid-March with the MLS Cup on Nov. 20. The First Kick game could be announced soon with the rest of the schedule coming out in January or February. Apparently some conflicts with FIFA and CONCACAF scheduling has made things difficult. They aren’t sure whether the schedule will be balanced or not. A single table format always remains in the discussion but Garber said they would never do away with playoffs.
— The league is looking potentially changing the playoff structure — maybe add more teams and have the team with the best record host the MLS Cup, but there are logistical things to consider there. Said the “oddity” of having a Western Conference team win the East was something he wasn’t pleased with.
— Teams that compete in the CONCACAF Champions League already get extra allocation money from the league to help out with rosters. The amount could increase as teams advance in the tournament.
— Garber also acknowledged some of the MLS greats that are retiring, including Brian McBride. He then announced the MLS Best XI and admitted some roster massaging was done to get Landon Donovan on there. Donovan was listed as a forward on the ballots but made the team as a midfielder after receiving a large amount of votes. No Sounders made the cut, but ex-mate Sebastien Le Toux did.
— At one point during the Q&A portion he appeared to tag Dallas midfielder David Ferreira as the league MVP. Someone asked about the lack of big-name star power and Garber erroneously said the Golden Boot winner would be playing, but San Jose and Chris Wondolowski are already eliminated. Garber corrected himself by saying the game would feature a player involved in an upcoming announcement. It’s hard to explain, but a lot of people including myself thought it came across as Ferreira being named MVP on Friday.
— Garber mentioned that some new stadiums will be completed at various stages next season, including a brand-new venue in Kansas City and renovated venues in Vancouver and Portland.
— Someone asked about New York receiving an expansion franchise as a 20th team in the league and Garber said he was for it. He thinks the city would support a second team and a rivalry with the Red Bulls would be great for all involved.
— When asked further about expansion Garber said he can’t see the South not getting a team eventually. He mentioned Atlanta, San Diego and some Florida cities as other possibilities. He didn’t like the idea of moving less successful teams to different cities and it sounded like the league could grow beyond 20 teams.
— Lastly, Garber called the “phenomenon in the Pacific Northwest is something we never could have dreamed of” and stressed the importance of rivalries in helping the league grow. Something we will be in the middle of next season and beyond.