SBD/January 3, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

MLS Commissioner Garber Responds To Blatter's Criticism, Says League Isn't Struggling

Garber said that despite comments, Blatter believes in MLS and U.S. soccer
MLS Commissioner Don Garber yesterday fired back at FIFA President Sepp Blatter, saying that he was "surprised by recent criticism of the league," according to Andrew Das of the N.Y. TIMES. Garber said, "We still have a lot of work to do -- we understand and accept that. But arguably there’s probably not another sports league in the world that has achieved as much as we have in the last 20 years." Garber said, "I know that the president believes in American soccer and believes in the league. Sometimes I think these things happen when you’re not here for a while. When you’re not here or travel much to the U.S., it’s hard to fully understand what the sports market is like here. When you’re not living and breathing the North American sport market, it is easy to believe MLS is being lost in some of the noise." Garber said that he would look to "correct that by inviting Blatter to a game." Garber: "I'm sure if he does, he'll see how far we've advanced, and I think he'd be very, very excited about that." Das notes while it is "not known if Blatter has seen an MLS regular-season or playoff game, a league official said his attendance at one would be a first" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/3). Garber said, "I really don’t believe the president believes we are struggling. I don’t think anybody in the pro sports community would describe us that way. In no way are we struggling, but we are less than 20 years old; we haven’t gone through a full generational term." He continued, "MLS, in a short period of time, has made great progress. But we have not been around for 100 years like (some) other (U.S.) leagues and certainly like the European soccer leagues, and as such, our development is appropriate to where we are from an age perspective" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 1/2).

STANDING UP FOR ITSELF
: Garber said he did not think Blatter's comments "hurt" the league, but noted it is "important to stand up and say that Major League Soccer -- while we have a lot of work to do -- is now thriving and making an impact." Garber downplayed whether Blatter's comments "would hurt MLS with potential multinational sponsors." He said, "The sports industry has enormous respect for us. Our corporate sponsorship base continues to grow. Our relationships with municipal governments providing support for soccer stadium development is at an all-time high. Investment in our league is at an all-time high and in some ways the envy of soccer leagues around the world." SI.com's Grant Wahl wrote it was "clear that Garber was trying to stay positive about MLS without opening verbal fire on Blatter." But he "didn't exactly offer a ringing endorsement of the FIFA president." Meanwhile, Garber yesterday "canceled his plans to attend the FIFA Ballon d'Or ceremony in Zurich next week -- he has been a regular at the event in previous years -- and will instead be on hand next Monday at Soccer Night in Newtown" (SI.com, 1/2).
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