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MLS Commissioner Don Garber Wants to Make the League More Relevant in Canada

Garber said MLS would be willing to subsidize a fourth designated player spot for the league's three Canadian franchises, an attempt to create a stronger brand within the country.

by Daniel Samuel
Feb 8 2017, 10:02pm

Photo by Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

This article originally appeared on VICE Sports Canada.

Coming off a Major League Soccer championship final last December that saw Toronto FC host the Seattle Sounders—a match in which an unprecedented 4.2 million Canadians watched at least some of—MLS commissioner Don Garber is now set out on a mission to make the league "more relevant" in Canada.

Garber spoke to fans and the media earlier this week at a town hall event in Vancouver ahead of the league's 22nd season, which kicks off on March 3rd. The commissioner announced MLS would be willing to subsidize a fourth designated player spot for the league's three Canadian franchises Toronto FC, Montreal Impact, and Vancouver Whitecaps, to bring Canadian international players to the league, an overall attempt to create stronger brand within the country.

The news follows a growing trend to promote the sport more in Canada. The league renewed its contract with cable provider TSN in January, inked a new partnership with French-language sports channel TVA Sports, and will create a national marketing group for Canada.

"We're doing [this] for the same reason we subsidized LA to bring in David Beckham—because we believed that's in the best interests of Major League Soccer," Garber said.

"We're looking to figure out ways that we can grow our national television ratings. In order to do that we need to make the sport—our league—more relevant here, and we need to make our clubs more popular in their local markets."

Garber explained the importance of finding a path for Canadian international players to come to MLS and specified Brampton-born Atiba Hutchinson as an example. Hutchinson, 34, currently plays overseas as a midfielder for Besiktas in the Turkish Super Lig.

"I know there has been interest in bringing Atiba home," the commissioner said "I don't know why a deal was never done with him, so I can't comment on that. As we did with the top American players, we do need to bring as many of the top Canadian players home to Canada to play in Major League Soccer.

While this new policy would be a landmark deal and a step in the right direction for Canadian soccer as a whole, Garber rebuked the idea of the MLS adopting a rule similar to the North American Soccer League's recent policy, in which Canadians, like their American counterparts, count as domestic players.

The MLS currently allows US players to play in Canada without counting as an international roster spot, but the rules don't apply vice-versa.

"It's a violation of US law," Garber said. "We've looked at this issue since we launched teams up here in Canada."