MLS Commissioner Don Garber gives expansion update, shares replay timeline

Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber sat down with ESPN at halftime of Thursday’s AT&T MLS All-Star Game, giving an update on expansion and instant replay to the network’s Max Bretos, Kasey Keller and Alejandro Moreno.

Garber tackled expansion first. He gave an outline on Atlanta United’s progress ahead of their 2017 MLS debut.

He also gave an update on the league’s 2018 expansion plans, mentioning LAFC — who will join the league in 2018 — and David Beckham’s potential Miami franchise. 

“Let’s start with the first one, Atlanta,” Garber said. “They made a presentation at our board meeting, 31,000 season ticket deposits, unbelievable technical development, a training ground, so we know they’re coming in next. We know we have another announcement in a couple of weeks of who will join them.

“We’ve got two more teams after that. LAFC are going to break ground on their stadium in two weeks and we hope to still get something done in Miami, but then we’ll have four more teams [after that]. I can’t tell you when that’s going to be, we’re going to be careful and we’re going to make sure that we manage the technical aspects of expansion, but there’s a lot of interest, probably a dozen cities for those last four spots.” 

Beckham and his group acquired six acres of land in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood this spring, but are still attempting to purchase a three-acre plot from Miami-Dade County needed to complete their proposed stadium.

MLS established a South Florida foothold early in the league’s history, with the Fusion playing from 1998-2001.

“Every time we talk about [Miami] things are happening there, but it takes time,” Garber said. “You’ve got to get it right. We failed there once. We have a good investor, we’ve got David engaged, we’ve got a site, but it’s going to take some time before we’ve got any real news.”

Garber also spoke about the efforts to bring instant replay to MLS, saying that he expects to have some form of video review in the league next year.

MLS and the International Football Association Board (IFAB) announced in June that MLS will be among the first leagues in the world to participate in developing and testing FIFA’s new video assistant referee (VAR) initiative.

The initiative consists of an additional referee positioned in a booth with technology that allows them to access video from every available camera angle at a finger’s touch. A communications system will allow the video official to alert and advise the head referee on goal calls, penalty decisions, direct red card incidents and cases of mistaken identity.

MLS hosted representatives from more than 20 leagues and associations around the world for a VAR workshop at Red Bull Arena last week.

“From day one, I’ve always believed that we need to have some video replay,” Garber said. “Fortunately new leaders at FIFA and at IFAB, they’re actually pulling this right now. We said we want to be a guinea pig, we had IFAB at Red Bull Arena last week with leagues from around the world, and it’s happening.

“The good thing is they’re pushing it pretty far, they’re pushing it further than we’re able to kind of figure out a way to manage. We will be testing it soon, it’s going to happen in our league in the next year or so. Could we test it next year, could we test it in USL this year? Probably, but we’ve got to change the way the game’s perceived from an officiating perspective and technology’s going to help us do that.”

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