WASHINGTON (AP) — MLS Commissioner Don Garber figures Lionel Messi’s arrival is just the start of an exciting few years for soccer in North America.
The United States, Mexico and Canada are hosting the World Cup in 2026, and before that, the 2024 Copa America and 2025 Club World Cup come to the U.S.
“North America is driving a lot of the energy and a lot of the potential value of soccer on a global basis, and we believe that MLS is one of the drivers of all of that energy,” Garber said. “All of the opportunity and energy and excitement about what’s going to happen over the next number of years is going to have the whole world saying, ‘Well, they finally got it.’”
Garber took questions from reporters Tuesday, the day before the MLS All-Star Game in Washington. A team of MLS All-Stars faces Arsenal on Wednesday night. Messi’s decision to come play for Inter Miami has given the North American league a boost, and it was no surprise when that topic came up quite a bit at the commissioner’s news conference.
“A transformational moment for our league, for sure,” Garber said. “You have the best player in the history of the game to be choosing Major League Soccer is something we couldn’t be more excited about — and the fact that the first game will be Friday in our new inaugural Leagues Cup.”
Messi is expected to make his debut for Inter Miami against Cruz Azul on Friday in the Leagues Cup, a CONCACAF-sanctioned tournament that includes MLS teams from the U.S. and Canada, as well as participants from Mexico’s Liga MX.
“There’s been so much talk about the rivalry between our national teams,” Garber said. “We are equal partners in this World Cup-style tournament that will have our teams playing their teams. Lots of energy behind it, lots of prize money, and we couldn’t be more excited about it.”
When Garber was asked about what his next dream is for the league, he said MLS is “probably past the dream point.”
“We want to be one of the top soccer leagues in the world,” Garber said. “Now we proved to the world that we can at least compete with the top player in the world, but how do we capture the hearts and minds of fans around the world? How do we capture the hearts and minds of every player?”
That — as opposed to short-term concerns like ticket sales — is how Garber will evaluate success after adding Messi.
“How does it really speak to the reputation of the league?” Garber said.
NOT THE SAME
D.C. United coach Wayne Rooney, who is coaching the MLS team this week, was asked if some sort of All-Star Game could work in the Premier League in England. The former Manchester United star was skeptical.
“The culture’s different,” Rooney said. “It’s a huge game here, but I think in England, the rivalry between teams, the coaches will complain about players playing too much. I just don’t think it will work in England.”
DON’T COUNT ON IT
Garber was asked about the possibility of promotion and relegation coming to MLS. Not in the near future, he said.
“I don’t see it happening any time soon, but I’ve also learned that never is a long time,” he said. “We’ll have 30 teams. Maybe at some point we’ll have more than 30 teams. We’ve got this interesting competition going on with Mexico. Who knows how all that plays itself out? The minor leagues are developing well in our country.”