VANCOUVER, B.C. - If you woke up on Monday morning and were wondering why there is snow in the ground in Vancouver, it's just a rare occurrence. If you were wondering why MLS Commissioner Don Garber was visiting Vancouver, yup, that's also a rare occurrence.
Garber was visiting Vancouver for a "Team visit" to check in on the Whitecaps organization. He held a morning roundtable dissection with assembled media. In the evening, Garber was on stage at the Vogue Theatre for the Vancouver Whitecaps FC season launch. The commissioner was hit with a flurry of questions during his hour-long talk with the media.
On January 31, Major League Soccer announced that 12 U.S. cities had submitted expansion bids. Cincinnati, Charlotte, Raleigh/Durham, Nashville, Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg, Indianapolis, Detroit, St. Louis, Phoenix, San Antonio, Sacramento, and San Diego. If you are expecting MLS to expand to another Canadian city, nope that won't be happening.
"We've not had a Canadian city submit an expansion bid," said Garber. "We are not looking at expansion to Canada."
Another point of discontent is Canadians counting as international players if they are on a rostered MLS team in the U.S. - This significantly cuts down opportunities for Canadian born players to play in North America's top league. The North America Soccer League (NASL), and United Soccer League (USL), both count Canadians as domestic players. MLS fans want equality and a changing of this rule, but Garber isn't interested.
"I can't comment on the NASL," said Garber. "It's a violation of U.S. law. We’ve looked at this issue since we launched teams up here in Canada."
Garber also cited perhaps players from Honduras, Mexico and other countries would want a domestic rule for them. A Pandora's box, if you will, but that won't fly here in Canada.
Canadian MLS supporters want to see the best available Canadians players playing for their team. Dwayne De Rosario had a long storied career and three stints with Toronto FC / Lynx. What about Atiba Hutchinson? Garber wants to see a player of Hutchinson's calibre in MLS. He revealed that MLS will subsidize transfer fees for top Canadian internationals
Scott Arfield, Junior Hoilett perhaps. Hutchinson has toiled in tumultuous Turkey, with Beşiktaş for too long. Why hasn't a Canadian club brought Hutchinson to MLS as DP?
"I know there has been interest in bringing Atiba home," revealed Garber. "I don't know why a deal was never done with him. I can't comment on that. As we did with the top American players, we do need to bring as many of the top Canadian players home to Canada to play in Major League Soccer. We want our league and our clubs to be a league of choice."
MLS refereeing has been a hot mess for quite a while. The Whitecaps led MLS with red cards in 2016. It seemed like Kendall Waston could not step on the pitch without being carded. Whitecaps gaffer, Carl Robinson was suspended himself for one match.
Fans have long thought that MLS has a bias towards certain teams. Caps fans are always up in arms and wondering how the MLS disciplinary committee (DISCO) plays a part in handing down suspensions after the fact.
"I think it's a lot better than most give it credit for," said Garber, when asked about MLS refereeing. Garber also reiterated that it's "Unfairly criticized."
It sends the wrong message when an MLS referee does not call a foul or issue a card for an infraction. When Monday arrives, DISCO reviews and sends out a match ban. If the fans, coaches, players, and media are confused, surely this type of undermining is not good.
"That could not be further from the truth," said Garber, when asked about DISCO's role.
Fans saw how the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup was embraced and celebrated by people of all ages, and all walks of lives. It would be amazing for Canada to be part of a men's World Cup. 2026 could see a bid from the United States, Canada, two separate bids, or even a possible joint bid. If Canada and the U.S. both submitted their own separate bids, which nation would Don Garber and MLS throw support to?
"I'm not going to comment," said Garber. "The league will get behind any bid to bring the World Cup to North America."
If it's a joint bid, you can expect MLS support. If it's solely a Canadian or U.S. bid, expect MLS support. However, if it's a no holds barred, United States vs Canada.... you might be waiting a while for that MLS backing for Canada.
For all that there is to moan about and shake your fists at. Major League Soccer is doing a lot of right things. Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal are thriving. MLS crowds are on par with top leagues in Europe. No longer are you seeing primarily old age pensioner players coming from Europe to play in MLS. It's taken a lot of baby steps, but MLS is on the right path. Slowly but surely growth will continue, and there's a lot fans should be celebrating.
"I think we are one of the top leagues in the world," said a confident Don Garber.