The eyes of the American soccer world were once again on MLS Commissioner Don Garber as he took the stage this afternoon for his annual update on league operations.
The State of the League
While there were few unexpected bits of news from the podium today, that’s probably the way the league front office likes it. The annual conference is designed much like the State of the Union address; that is, less a surprise unveiling of new information and more as a reassurance that everything is on track and under control.
While much of this news was teased in the press over the previous week, publicly confirming the news is an important step for the league as the season wraps up and we begin the relentless march toward the 2017-18 season.
Here are three of the biggest announcements/confirmations to come out of the commissioner’s stump speech today.
Expansion is Coming
While it is difficult to know the true extent of the league’s health, all signs point to a strong and growing organization with a bright future.
Garber confirmed that expansion is on his mind as a major item on his agenda for the coming MLS board meeting Thursday will be to discuss the 24th through 28th expansion teams. While the current 2015-16 season features just 20 teams, Minnesota and Atlanta’s new sides will bring the league up to 22.
When asked about the distant future of the league and how far the road to expansion can go, Garber was optimistic. “Every town in America can have a professional soccer team,” he said. “The question is ‘at what level?’”
TAM on the Rise
Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) is a vital and sometimes confusing mechanism that gives teams increased buying power in the middle of their rosters. Think of it this way: If the draft is important for young prospects and Designated Player (DP) slots are critical for teams looking to sign big name players, TAM addresses the “meaty middle” that fills out the rest of a club’s locker room.
TAM was designed to have perhaps the greatest net effect on the league of all the buying mechanisms. The funds affect a large number of players and generally help increase the overall roster strength of teams.
This is partially what Garber was referring to later on in the presser when he spoke about MLS becoming the “league of choice” for strong players. A high tide raises all ships.
VAR is Here
No, not VR. VAR.
Video Assistant Referee (VAR) is a technology that promises to take some of the intuition and human error out of officiating high-caliber matches.
VAR technology can be a game-changing innovation. Contrary to what it sounds like, VAR is not a fully automated system. Instead, it equips an additional referee - usually located in a booth - with video feeds from all available cameras. If that referee catches a miscalled play, goal, or red car situation, he or she is able to radio an official on the field to change the call.
"I for one have been a strong proponent for using technology in soccer where it can enhance the game," Garber said previously in an interview with ESPNFC.com.
Stayed tuned to E Pluribus Loonum for more news from the commissioner’s talk as it becomes available.