NEW YORK -- MLS commissioner Don Garber's annual end-of-season State of the League address had a different look this year, and the result was a much livelier conversation than in the past.
In place of a traditional press conference or teleconference, the league held a roundtable discussion with representatives from MLS's various television and radio rights holders -- ESPN included -- and the new format produced a back-and-forth that was much harder-hitting than usual.
That was the idea. Before the session began, Garber made it clear that no subject was off limits. He implored the panel not to hold back, saying he wanted to have a "real conversation."
And it was.
Sure, Garber, MLS's head honcho since 1999, still skillfully bobbed and weaved his way around questions he either wouldn't or couldn't answer (like the status of the David Beckham-backed Miami expansion project; or whether the league would be able to retain emerging Mexican national team striker Erik "Cubo" Torres.)
Other queries -- such as those surrounding whether or not Frank Lampard would join NYCFC in time for the Manchester City-owned club's 2015 debut -- fell victim to the event's one-hour timeframe and never got asked at all.
Plenty of other topics were broached, however, giving MLS observers insight into a host of hot-button issues ahead of Sunday's MLS Cup championship game -- the 19th in league history -- between hosts LA Galaxy and the New England Revolution (3 p.m. ET, ESPN/WatchESPN).
The following are some of the highlights of the question and answer session from the roundtable.
Question: You alluded to the Collective Bargaining Agreement in your opening remarks. Where are we with that?
Commissioner Don Garber: I will say the dynamic is one that I would describe as positive. We have informed the players in a transparent way that the league isn't performing financially the way we would like. I think they accept that and understand that. At the same time I think there are a wide variety of things that are important to them that we're going to have to listen to and get our owners to recognize and then continue to move it forward to try to get a deal done.
Question: You say you're not going to Miami without the right stadium situation, but NYFC doesn't have a stadium situation, it's a baseball park; right? There's a big issue. LAFC does not have a stadium as well, yet they have franchises and one that's starting in a couple months. Why did they get in, yet we are debating Miami and some of these other places?
Garber: So we believe we have in LAFC a stadium solution that could solve that issue and are confident enough in our stadium opportunity that we believe we could solve that issue, and before we did that, we had multiple places and environments that we were comfortable with that if one option didn't work, we have three others that would work just as well.
When we made the decision to come into New York we were not just confident, we were at agreement level on a particular site. We thought we had that site in our hands, and we lost it. What I will say to you and everybody listening, this is not an exact science. There are no things that you could look at and say, the decision you made today is one that has to be the precedent for every decision you make going forward. We will have a stadium in New York City FC. They are committed to it. They are very, very focused on it.
We know in Miami if we don't play in an environment that will be the center of what's happening there culturally, we will not succeed. We can't go into a situation where that is up in the air because of our failure in the past. Let's basically call it what it is. We were in the wrong spot, we were in that market and we failed!
Question: Will the MLS exercise the option to keep "Cubo" Torres playing here or not?
Garber: Let's say we would like to. We haven't been able to make that decision yet. We think he could be and has been a great player in our league and certainly deserves to be in a position where he can thrive in a new team setting, rather than the one that he was in. The decision hasn't been made yet, but I'll tell you we would love to have him continue in the league.
Question: Will the away-goal rule continue to be used in future playoffs?
Garber: The answer to that is yes. It's interesting. If you're a Seattle fan you might not like the away-goal rule when you lost out to L.A., but you really liked it when you were playing Dallas. So we believe that rules can help games become more competitive and also we are trying to attract the larger soccer market that we only have a portion of.
So I might get that a baseball fan doesn't understand how Seattle won in Seattle but lost out and isn't going to be playing in the MLS Cup, but there is no soccer fan in our countries that don't understand that, particularly all our friends that are connected to League MX, so for now it is going to be part of our rules.
Question: How are you guys going about saying we can get these European guys, I'm talking European players who represent their national teams who are still considered in their prime? How do we get those guys to Major League Soccer?
Garber: Part of the problem is some people view a player who might have made the decision to leave Europe at a particular time that he's no longer a top player, and I don't believe that to be true. I believe that when Robbie [Keane] came to this league he was in his prime. David Beckham was 31 years old. You know at 31 you're not over the hill.
Michael Bradley came in his twenties and Clint Dempsey, putting aside what anybody else may think, I don't think Clint Dempsey came to Major League Soccer because he wasn't in his prime and couldn't make it in Europe. He decided he wanted to make the MLS a choice.
I think without being cute about it, how do you get the next Messi in their prime to play in MLS? That's something that is going to happen one of two ways. We either develop that player, and we're able to sign him, which we very much want to do, or we're in a position where we have enough revenue to be able to go out and attract that player and be able to have him decide at 25, put Michael Bradley aside, that this is the place which is best for him and his career.
Question: Will there ever be promotion and relegation in MLS?
Garber: Ever is a long time. I don't know what will happen after they kick me out of here. It's not happening anytime soon.