NEWS
11/10/2011 06:26 EST | Updated 01/10/2012 05:12 EST

MLS commissioner Don Garber confident Toronto FC is headed in right direction

MLS commissioner Don Garber says he believes Toronto FC is on the right track despite missing out on the playoffs for a fifth straight season.

"Well I certainly hope so," Garber told a media conference call Thursday. "And I have faith in MLSE (Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment) and believe that they'll figure this thing out.

"They're smart guys, they're passionate about sport and very very committed to soccer and TFC."

Garber pointed to the $20-million training centre that is under construction as evidence of that investment.

"That's a remarkable commitment," he said.

Garber also expressed confidence in first-year coach Aron Winter.

"I think Aron has it right. We hope he can be successful. I admire his commitment to his approach and his philosophy. I think it started showing some dividends at the end of the year. And I have faith that he'll figure it out."

Toronto (6-13-15) finished 16th in the 18-team league this season but showed signs of improvement after a mid-season makeover. TFC also advanced to the quarter-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League joining the Los Angeles Galaxy and Seattle Sounders, the top two teams in the standings, as the MLS entries in the final eight.

Garber was also bulllish on the Vancouver Whitecaps despite a 6-18-10 record that tied New England for a league-worst 28 points.

"I know they were disappointed with how they end up on the field," he said. "But that didn't surprise us. I think coming into any pro sports league, it's almost expected that you're going to have some competitive disadvantages being the last guys in.

"That being said, many believe around the league believe that they have a very very strong team and will perform much better next year. They've got some very good players that are fun and exciting to watch. ... I think they will improve."

Garber also talked up the Whitecaps ownership and the city.

"I love going to Vancouver. The experience that I have when I go to B.C. Place is something that warms my heart."

He called the Whitecaps' refurbished home "a technological marvel."

Montreal is set to join the North American league next season, becoming the 19th MLS team. The commissioner said the Impact's stadium is "a bit behind schedule" but the league hopes at least half of next season will be in the new venue.

"We have very high expectations for the Impact and a lot of faith in (Impact president) Joey Saputo and his staff," Garber said.

Garber says the addition of Montreal will mean an unbalanced 34-game schedule for everyone, meaning teams won't be playing each other an equal number of times.

A balanced 38-game season would be "almost impossible to execute," given travel, weather and stadium availabilities, he said.

Garber noted that the Whitecaps travelled almost 60,000 miles (96,560 kilometres) this year, almost twice as much as clubs at the lower end of the MLS travel scale. A typical European club travels about 5,000 miles (8,045 kilometres), he added, while Manchester United's total was 3,500 miles (5,630 kilometres).

"The more games we add, the more travel and impact it has on our players and therefore reduces the quality of our play."

The 2102 schedule is expected out in mid-December or early January.

Asked about the future of David Beckham, Garber said he hopes the 36-year-old former England captain will stay on after his US$32.5-million, five-year contract ends after this season.

"I don't know that I expect him to be there," he added.

"David has delivered for us on all aspects of our expectations, both on and off the field," Garber continued. "David had a terrific year this year. It's hard to argue that he wasn't one of the more important players on our fields and really contributed to his team and to the league competitively.

"Off the field he continues to be an important part of what drives some of the popularity of the league both here and around the world. He remains a very popular guy. His presence on the sports pages but also on the people pages continues to grow as opposed to wane here in America and we benefit by that."

Beckham and the Galaxy take on the Houston Dynamo in the MLS Cup in Carson, Calif., on Nov. 20.

In other news, Garber said:

— D.C. United might move to a different site in the Washington-Baltimore area next season because of the cost of playing at RFK Stadium, which he called a substandard stadium for soccer. "We have to aggressively figure a solution out and that solution needs to be figured out soon. And I am concerned what and where this team will be in 2012."

— There is "a very strong possibility" that next year's MLS Cup will be played in the city whose team wins the Supporters Shield for best regular-season record.

— The league wants "a new approach" to its officiating, in partnership with U.S. Soccer and the Canadian Soccer Association. Still, Garber said: "Our officiating is a hell of a lot better than our fans give us credit for."

— The league had 87 sellouts during the regular season.

— There are now 23 designated players on MLS rosters, up from 13 at the same time last year.

— There has been no progress in finding a venue that would enable the league to add a second team in the New York area, but MLS has a full-time person on the project, along with three consultants. Other possible expansion cities include Detroit and Las Vegas, with a Florida group also interested.