But before he took any questions, he made a few points up front. Gazidis said that while the infrastructure of the league has been developing and that the sport is in a “very healthy condition” with new investors and partnerships around, “nothing will be more important than how the game progresses on the field.”
“The goal as we go through this period of expansion is not just to keep our level of play at where it is today but to continue to take it forward and raise it so that the league a decade from now is substantially stronger than it is today.”
Over the next five years, however, the league’s quality of play might be tested. In 2008, there will be 14
So where will all those players come from?
“In short- to medium-term as we go through expansion, we have to focus on the international player pool in order to continue to develop our product,” Gazidis said. “We’re not going to be able to develop overnight new domestic players in the domestic market and so the international player pool is where we look. We’ve accompanied that with an increase and a simplification in our international player limits so that we’re now going into 2008 with eight international players per team.”
Gazidis said that
But the league is not just concerned about the short term. Whereas a decade ago many wondered if the league would still be around in a few years, now the league has no such worries. Now, it can focus on such things as developing players.
“This short term investment in the international marketplace is also being accompanied by a medium- to long-term investment in player development… so that ultimately we are able to supply Major League Soccer primarily from our domestic home-grown player pool,” Gazidis said.
The league is moving towards having all of its clubs having youth academies this year and eight of them, and maybe a ninth, will be free of charge to participating players, Gazidis said. It might take a while for this to pay off but to have a player come up through a club’s youth development system to the first team should happen in the next few years, he said.
“This really is an investment in the medium- to long-term so we won’t really see the fruits of a lot of these endeavors until we’re five, six or seven years out from when we started instituting them.”
As far as the 2008 season goes, rosters might be getting sorted out as Opening Day approaches but that does not mean players won’t be joining
There have been “21 new international players since
“We’re still early for the cycle of imports. At this time last year for example we’d signed only about a third of our international players that ended up coming in during the course of 2007 so there will continue to be significant signings through March and April… and then again when the window opens in July and August.”
U.S. Soccer, Gazidis said, will determine the participants in the CONCACAF Champions League. Coupled with SuperLiga, the new tournament will provide some much-needed competition for
“Having our players play against teams from overseas in meaningful games is very important for the development of our teams and our players and we have a very full complement of international competition this year. They also increase the intensity of the regular season by providing incentives for regular season finish in regular season games. Together with the fact that we are expanding our league to 14 teams so now only 8 of 14 will make our playoffs, we think there will be an added element of intensity and importance to every regular season game in 2008. We think it will be the most important and intense regular season we’ve ever had.”