MLS commish optimistic

Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber's plan for the game in North America is

Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber's plan for the game in North America is "slow, conservative, steady, logical growth." (Toronto Sun/Stan Behal)

MIKE RUTSEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:56 AM ET

Don Garber, commissioner of Major League Soccer, breezed through town yesterday afternoon but not before a media conference where he was bubbling with enthusiasm over his league's latest addition.

Forget the fact that Toronto has been a virtual graveyard for professional soccer investors in the past and that the Toronto FC is the MSL's 13th franchise -- Garber believes the future of soccer in this city has never looked brighter.

Fueling Garber's enthusiasm is the trio of ownership (Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment); the stadium (a new $60 million only for soccer facility that will open on time for the 2007 season); and the city itself with its multicultural roots.

"One of the things that I found very striking, and it surprised me a bit, is the ethnic and racially diversity of the team staff," Garber said after a morning visit with them. "As an American we live in a country made up of every other country from around the world and I'm not sure that all Americans think of Canada as being as diverse as the United States is.

"But one of the things that attracted us to Toronto was the global and international nature of this city and clearly the Toronto FC staff is as diverse as any MLS front-office staff and probably moreso. As a new, young, forward-thinking sports league these things are very important to us and we want our staffs to represent the diversity of the audiences that we're going after."

But what will make Toronto FC a success when there's been so much failure in the past? It's the MLS's overall plan, Garber replied.

"Soccer tried to succeed in the United States a number of times and and failed as well," Garber said. "Two months ago we announced the first long-term (eight year) television agreements in the history of the sports with major network and cable operators. That never existed in the NASL or the ASL.

"The league's approach of slow, conservative, steady, logical growth is our plan to ensure soccer has a solid foundation and will continue to thrive. We have learned from other sports leagues that have gone out of business because of a bad plan.

"And clearly Toronto is a different city today than it was 10 years ago, 20 years ago."

Having a soccer-specific stadium, he said, is a key.

"If we had to continue to play in American Football stadiums this league would have not succeeded, it would have failed," he said. "It is that direct. In Toronto, we wouldn't be here if we had to play at the Rogers Centre

"Most importantly, and this is a great example of this community, you have people that understand the game. They don't want to go to a baseball stadium or a football stadium to watch a soccer game. (Otherwise) We're not going to get the people that really get the game."

As for the next step in Toronto FC's development is the expansion draft, which will be held at the end of November at a yet-to-be-determined date and the annual player entry draft which will be held Jan. 12 in Indianapolis with Toronto awarded the first pick.

The rules regarding the team's roster makeup will be slightly different than the other 12 U.S. based teams that are allowed a maximum of four foreign players. Toronto FC, Garber said, will be able to have the four international players plus three additional players from the U.S. with the rest of the team comprised of Canadian players.

Garber was the honoured guest at yesterday's Sports Media Canada awards. Toronto's Stacy Allaster, president of the Women's Tennis Association, received the executive of the year award, CBC's Ron MacLean was named broadcaster of the year and the Calgary Herald's George Johnson was sportswriter of the year.

TSN host Dave Hodge and Sportsnet president Doug Beeforth received lifetime achievement awards.


Videos

Photos