For MLS's Garber, the game is maturing in U.S

Thu Mar 5, 2015 5:19pm EST
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By Simon Evans

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Despite four straight days of negotiations, there was a spring in the step of Major League Soccer (MLS) commissioner Don Garber as he left the offices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service on Wednesday.

A new five-year collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players union ensured that MLS's 20th season will begin on time on Friday with no damaging work stoppage.

"It allows us to keep the momentum going," said a smiling Garber, who after weeks of uncertainty was quickly back in his familiar mode of talking up the progress of the league he has headed since 1999.

Just before the talks with the MLSPU entered their intensive final stages, Garber spoke to Reuters in an interview about the league's 20th season, looking back on the ups and downs of a league that many sceptics wondered would make it past infancy.

"I took over at a time when soccer was really so immature in our country," said Garber, who had previously worked for the NFL. "It was hard to have any vision as to what we would be 15 years later.

"For sure, in 1999 when I came in, MLS was still operating as a start-up, we were raising money, trying to figure out our short-term strategy so that we could establish a long-term plan and vision.

"While we had some of the key building blocks in place, so much has shifted both in the market and in our own plans that we have evolved to be a business that is probably very different to how a lot of people thought it would be when it was founded."

The 'start-up' MLS had some teams who were actually owned by the league itself and Garber was given the task of finding owners for Dallas, San Jose and Tampa Bay.   Continued...

Don Garber (L) exchanges working microphones with David Beckham  at a news conference in Miami, Florida February, 5, 2014.     REUTERS/Andrew Innerarity