CARSON, Calif. – Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber has plenty of reasons to feel upbeat about the league’s 16th season, which got underway last week and already has produced it share of drama.
He raved about the debuts of the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Portland Timbers and was happy for Charlie Davies, making a comeback from a near-fatal automobile accident and scoring two goals for D.C. United, and Mexican international Omar Bravo scoring twice for his new team, Sporting Kansas City.
Garber, in town to watch Sunday’s 1-1 draw between the Galaxy and New England Revolution, also touched on recent comments by AEG President/CEO Tim Leiweke, who recently intimated at the 2011 LA Galaxy Luncheon that this year’s MLS Cup will be held at The Home Depot Center in November. That brought a smile to Garber’s face then, and it did again Sunday.
“I think he’d like to see it here,” Garber said. “It’s not yet decided, but Tim’s always good for comments that get us all excited on the press side and me frustrated on my end.
“We’re hoping to get an announcement for MLS Cup soon. We’re negotiating with AEG about bringing the Cup here. We’re not finalized yet, but I think this would be a great place for MLS Cup.”
Garber was at The Home Depot Center after a visit to Vancouver, where he saw the Whitecaps open their inaugural MLS campaign in impressive fashion with a 4-2 victory over Toronto FC in front of a sold-out Empire Field crowd of 22,592.
“It was Seattle with white caps... a beautiful setting. You can see the mountains off in the distance,” he said. “The crowd was very passionate. Imagine what will happen when they have Seattle coming up there, Portland coming up there, LA coming up there. Then you have Toronto and (expansion) Montreal next year.
“It was a great opening weekend. The competition was good and strong, which we hoped to see. A bunch of goals, some good crowds, a very good television rating on Tuesday night on ESPN (for the Galaxy’s 1-0 victory at Seattle). It’s a good start.”
He was thrilled for Davies, who almost died in an Oct. 13, 2009 car accident that killed a fellow passenger and left with him with injuries severe enough to force him to miss last year’s World Cup.
Davies joined D.C. United on loan from French side Sochaux.
“It’s a good story, I’m not quite sure what I expected,” Garber said.
“(Team president and CEO) Kevin Payne has always been such a supporter of the national team, I think he was hoping to do something to help Charlie get his career back on track.
“It looks like he’s playing pretty well. It could develop into a good story for us, but most importantly I hope it develops into Charlie getting his life back and getting back on the national team and hopefully staying in Major League Soccer.”
Garber also praised the ownership group with Sporting Kansas City, which opens Livestrong Sporting Park in June, but he admitted he won’t be closely following the club’s upcoming tryout for Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco.
“It’s not something I’m paying much attention to,” he said. “I’m following it on Twitter like all you guys are.”
He also had no comment on the FIFA power struggle involving Asian Football Confederation president Mohamed Bin Hammam, who is trying to unseat long-time FIFA president Joseph “Sepp” Blatter.
“We’re going to stay out of that,” Garber said. “I had my fill of FIFA politics for a while. I’m going to stay pretty grounded here and stay focused on the league.”
That’s certainly where his passion lies.
“I’m very optimistic,” he said. “When you’re in the soccer business, it’s got to be cautious optimism. I think I’ll always be cautiously optimistic. Because I’ve been through the tough times and I still recognize where we are in the sports landscape, which is an emerging league that’s growing well and people are bullish about.
“I feel very good, particularly this year.”