MLS commissioner Don Garber gives State of the League address

MLS commissioner Don Garber gives State of the League address

Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber held the annual State of the League address Friday ahead of Saturday's MLS Cup championship between Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders.

He stood behind a podium in downtown Toronto for nearly an hour talking about the future of video replay in the sport, roster structure, salary cap, development and growth.

Here are some of the most important talking points of the speech.

Video replay in 2017

MLS will be one of the first leagues in the world to implement Video Assistant Referees. Garber said the league will test what he called VAR during the first half of the 2017 season, hoping to put the technology into full effect after the All-Star break.

"When ready, this innovation will allow our league to be stronger, it will allow our referees to have better technology to be able to support their decisions on the field or allow right decisions to be made,” Garber said

The program was tested in various leagues around the world this year, including in the United States’ lower-level United Soccer League, which includes Orlando City B.

The technology is polarizing among fans and players. Some believe video replay has no place in soccer and will slow down the game, others are frustrated that many times on major plays fans watching have seen the replay on television before the referee makes a decision, good or bad.

According to MLSSoccer.com, the VAR initiative will place an additional referee in a booth with the technology to instantly assess a video replay from all angles and communicate with the head official. The system only will be used during “game-changing decisions: goals, penalty decisions, direct red card incidents, mistaken identity.”

Miami time limit

David Beckham and his ownership group do not have forever to launch a Miami MLS team.

“There is a deadline on the Miami deal, and I'm not going to share that deadline,” Garber said. “It's an agreement we have with David and [English entrepreneur] Simon Fuller.

“But what I've said before, and I'll say again here now – we need to resolve the Miami situation so we can go forward with our expansion plans and [teams] 25 through 28, because they're team 24. And if they're not going to be 24, then there are going to be things that need to move around.”

Garber said the league will discuss the situation at a board meeting Thursday.

Beckham specifically has had trouble with securing a stadium site since putting in an expansion bid in 2014, but recently has made progress on a location.

TAM increase

The news slipped out days earlier, but Garber confirmed Targeted Allocation Money for each club will increase to $1.2 million next season, $400,000 more than the $800,000 the league previously announced for 2017.

The increase is significant because TAM is used to strengthen the middle of rosters, an area of weakness across the league. It is used to enhance the salaries of players making more than the $480,625 maximum budget charge for 2017 but less than $1 million.

Teams can use TAM in four ways: to sign a new player whose salary and acquisition costs are more than the maximum salary budget, to re-sign an existing player earning more than the maximum salary budget, to convert a designated player to a non-designated player by buying down his salary budget charge and to trade with other clubs.

“The investment we’ve made in what we call TAM, supporting and improving the middle of our rosters, across 2016 and 2017 will go up $33 million,” Garber said.

Canadian domestics

Last week, MLS announced a joint task force with the Canadian Soccer Association that will focus on youth development in Canada, expanding the Generation Adidas program into Canada and allowing any player who comes up through a Canadian or U.S. academy to sign with MLS as a domestic player.

When asked why all Canadian players will not count as domestic, Garber said it’s a legal issue.

“When you look at U.S. Law, which does not allow any employer to treat one passport holder differently than another,” he said. “We could not have a different rule for Canadians than Honduras, Guatemalans, or – we have players from 60 countries.”

So the league found a loophole using academies. Garber said with this mechanism, forty percent of Canadian players in MLS today will immediately count as domestics and, eventually, nearly all Canadians will be counted as domestics.

NCAA play

College soccer in the United States often can hinder the development of young players in the country since the NCAA imposes strict rules on training and professional participation for students.

Garber acknowledged the issue and said many people are working to change certain aspects of college soccer in an attempt to close the gap between young players in the U.S. and overseas.

He quoted former U.S. men’s national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann saying, “In major league soccer a rookie is 22; in the rest of the world a rookie is 16.”

“We do have a gap that is slowing down our development,” Garber continued. “It affects our national team and part of that is why many of our young players are going to mature development programs overseas. We’ve got to try to find a way to address that…Can they play in a pro environment in the offseason? can they play by the same rules? Can they have season-long training?

“If I were the NCAA, I’d make those changes, because I don’t think you want to be in a situation where nobody wants to play college soccer.”

Cancer-free

Garber was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2014. During the State of the League address, he said he is feeling great and celebrating a year cancer-free.

“When you come out on the positive end of an experience like that, I believe it makes you better,” Garber said. “I’m stronger, fitter and as energized and spunky as ever.”

ardelgallo@orlandosentinel.com

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