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MLS changes for next season and beyond


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League address covers upcoming changes

By Jason Halpin / MLSnet.com Staff

FRISCO, Texas -- Major League Soccer will play a 30-game schedule in 2007, Commissioner Don Garber announced during his annual State of the League address Friday at Pizza Hut Park.

The addition of Toronto FC as the league's 13th team necessitated a change in the way the season is formatted, and with MLS players set to take part in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, Copa America and the soon-to-be-announced Mexico-United States club tournament, a reduction in the number of games played was deemed the right way to go.

The changes in the conference structure and the league calendar are pending approval by the MLS Board of Governors, who are meeting in Frisco on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning.

Commissioner Garber scuttled recent speculation in the media about the possibility that MLS would use a single table or that the league would play a split season next year, saying Toronto will join the Eastern Conference, bringing it to seven teams while the Western Conference remains at six.

"The break seems logical but makes it the hardest because now you have less time; the only thing you can really do is reduce the number of games," Garber said. "Going from 32 to 30, we think, is not something we want to do long term. We need more games, we don't need fewer games.

"We continue to believe that a conference format with a full slate of games from April through November will best serve the league and our fans and our players."

Each of the seven East teams will play every other East team four times for a total of 24 intraconference games. One game against each West team will round out each East team's schedule.

In the West, each team will play four games against two of their intraconference foes and five games against their other three conference rivals, as well as one game against each East team.

The league will also tinker with the way teams qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs. The top two teams in each conference will make the playoffs; of the remaining nine teams, the four with the most points, regardless of conference, will also qualify. The potential imbalance - five East teams and three West teams, for example - means two teams from the same conference could meet in MLS Cup 2007.

The playoff format itself, however, consisting of two-leg aggregate goals series in the first round and one-off games in the latter two, will not change.

"Seeing the excitement of the semifinals and the conference championships in the past couple of weeks was enough to convince all of us that our current playoff format does create excitement, it increases fan following, it certainly leads to higher attendances in those later games, it increases media coverage, and overall we think that's a positive thing," Garber said.

"We think that's necessary to break through what is a very crowded schedule in the fall. Unless we're going to stop playing before Labor Day, which is something we're not going to do, we believe we have no choice but to continue to play through and try to make those games more meaningful."

One way in which regular season games are made more meaningful is via qualification to the Mexico-United States club tournament that will begin next year and be played at midweek throughout the MLS season.

Full details of the tournament will be unveiled on Univision's Republica Deportiva on Sunday, but Garber said qualification to the tournament will be based on league performance.

In addition to improving the number of meaningful games, the league will also seek to improve the play on the field, Garber said. Two initiatives -- one setting up youth development systems for every MLS team and one allowing for more international players to come to the league -- will aid in achieving that goal.

The league announced its youth development initiative prior to Garber's speech. Each MLS team will be required to set up a youth academy separate from the senior team and will be able to add to its academy youth players who live within that team's designated "home territory." After a player has been with an MLS youth team for a year, he may be signed to the senior club without having to enter the MLS SuperDraft. From 2008-2010, each team may sign up to two players from its youth academy.

"This vertically integrated player development system will strengthen our player pool and provide greater levels of on-field competition," Garber said. "We're going to have these young kids nipping at the heels of veteran players and pushing that competition.

"The first step is giving our teams the incentive to invest in these facilities so that ultimately we're building the infrastructure of not just the game professionally, but from a youth perspective, as well."

Garber strongly implied that more international players are on their way to MLS, but didn't comment on what mechanism will be used to bring them in, saying that also will be ironed out in the meeting of the Board of Governors. Garber said an increase in the number of senior roster players a team can sign is unlikely.

"Our fans have said, 'We really want to see the kind of international players we've had in the league in the past,' and that's something we were evolving away from," Garber said. "You've got to listen to your customer, so we're looking at focusing on a re-emphasis on signing new international players. That's going to require spending. That's going to require rethinking what kind of money we put into allocation budgets.

"You will see a change to the look and feel of our rosters in 2007."

As he does periodically, Garber updated the media on potential expansion candidates, listing Atlanta, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Rochester, San Diego, San Jose, St. Louis and Seattle as new markets the league could move into and New York as the potential home of a second MLS team. The league hopes to expand in 2008 but could wait until 2009 if it is not willing to launch a team without a soccer-specific stadium.

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Personally i like the new changes. The 30 games from 32 is ok,and the conference's and playoffs i like also so im quite content with them change's although the east teams play the west teams only once all season is a bit odd and the American Mexico cup should've waited till next season,with a possible expansion team in 08 the shedule would've been better plus theres Copa America and Gold cup as for the Nats as well as US Open Cup in MLS.

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MLS OKs 'Beckham Rule' to attract superstar players

Associated Press

Major League Soccer teams will be allowed to sign high-profile players such as David Beckham, Ronaldo or Luis Figo after club owners Saturday approved a change to salary-cap regulations.

The "Beckham Rule" will give MLS teams the authority to acquire players outside the $2 million-per-team salary cap, which will be "significantly" increased to accommodate the new policy, MLS deputy commissioner Ivan Gazidis said.

MLS, which for 11 years has paid all players out of a central fund, will be responsible for up to $400,000 of the player's salary, but the rest will paid for by the team.

Each team initially will receive one "designated player" roster slot, which can be traded among teams. No team, however, will be allowed more than two designated players.

"We believe this league has established a solid foundation over 11 years," MLS commissioner Don Garber said. "Now it's time to refocus our efforts to make our games more exciting than they already are."

The decision in Frisco, Texas, comes a day before the league's MLS Cup championship between the New England Revolution and Houston Dynamo and a day after the MLS announced a rule change that will allow teams to sign players out of their own youth development systems without subjecting them to the draft.

The Los Angeles Galaxy and New York Red Bulls have been linked in reports to Beckham, who is under contract with Real Madrid but has a youth academy at the Galaxy's Home Depot Center.

"The purpose of this is to give teams the flexibility to construct the rosters the way they want," Gazidis said. "Some teams want to have star players. Others will choose a different route.

"In this period of time over the next five years, as the ball rolls in our direction, we want to give it a little bit of an extra push."

Several players, such as the Los Angeles Galaxy's Landon Donovan, the Kansas City Wizards' Eddie Johnson and Chivas USA's Francisco "Paco" Palencia, already exceed the $400,000 limit, and will be "grandfathered" for one year under the new rule. However, in 2008, they also will come under the designated player rule. The rule will expire after the 2009 season and be reviewed.

The designated players still will sign contracts with the MLS, subject to league review, but the responsibility to attract the player will be on the team, Gazidis said.

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I will say this, it is going to be a very different league next season and every year we inch towards the light at the end of the tunnel. It all depends if people see it or not and it looks like MLS is making a major push next season with ESPN to make people pay attention. I cheer this move as it is the right time because I felt the league was starting to stagnate. I also think this offseason will be a huge exodus of American talent to European leagues. So bringing in big name players will spring some interest and hopefully pack a few more stadiums. Colorado needs to launch their stadium into the bigtime and with Red Bull Park coming online 2008 we should start to rock.

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The Backham rule sounds a bit like the Marquee player in the A-league where each team can sign a player outside the salary cap. Most notable was Dwight Yorke for Sydney FC last year...others include Socceroos Kevin Muscat, Stan Lazaridis and the like.

Pele played for NY in 70's i think. So its not really a new idea. Maybe under different conditions.

I reckon an MLS All Stars versus A-League All Stars game would be competitive.

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