Don Garber says Lampard contract 'could have been handled better'

MLS commissioner Don Garber acknowledged on Thursday that the confusing Frank Lampard contract saga "could have been handled better."

New York City FC said in July it had signed Lampard to a two-year contract starting in August. Lampard then began playing for Manchester City, which like NYCFC is controlled by City Football Group.

But Manchester City said on Dec. 31 it was keeping Lampard through the end of the English Premier League season in May. NYCFC said this month Lampard signed a contract just after New Year's Day to join it this July.

"It could have been handled better," Garber said at the MLS SuperDraft. "And it needs to be handled better going forward. We've learned lessons from this, and those lessons are that transparency is more and more important."

Shortly after the draft began on Thursday, "Where's Frank Lampard?" chant echoed through the grand ballroom of the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Garber defended NYCFC by saying the club never intended to intentionally "mislead the fans," but added that NYCFC "characterized it improperly" when first announcing Lampard's signing.

Allocation order addressed

Garber admitted that the league was in "deep negotiations" with Jozy Altidore's representatives before discussing the allocation mechanism by which the striker is set to land in Toronto.

The league commissioner indicated that it wasn't going to go away any time soon, and that a full explanation of how players enter the league from abroad would be announced before the start of the season.

"We have to have a way of assigning players to our teams," he said. "How are they going to come in? How would Jozy Altidore come into the league? In the past, we have not been putting them in a ranking system.

"That ranking system is part of our core tenet, which is parity and having teams that finish at the bottom have an opportunity that allows them to get better. The allocation order is a mechanism to do that.

"Other than that, it's a free-for-all, and this league is not ever going to have a free-for-all. We need to have order in how players are signed. That's a core principle in MLS, we just need to make sure that everyone understands it."

Expansion on the agenda

Garber also said the list of serious candidates for an expansion franchise continues to grow, with St. Louis and San Antonio recently appearing on the commissioner's radar.

St. Louis could have a void in its local sports schedule if St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke follows through on threats to move the NFL team to Los Angeles if a new stadium is not built.

"I'm going to be out in St. Louis in the next couple of weeks," Garber said. "St. Louis has got a lot of activity going on with a stadium that they're trying to get done for the Rams. There's a big soccer community out there and we'd love to see a soccer stadium downtown like they're thinking about a football stadium.

"San Antonio has been very active. There's a lot of stuff going on. There's a lot of interest in expansion."

Las Vegas, Sacramento and Minneapolis have been seen as the front-runners for a new MLS team.

"It's very positive that we have multiple owners in an important market that want to come into Major League Soccer," Garber said. "We have got a lot of decisions we need to make.

"We are bullish on Minneapolis. We think it's a good market, it's an important market for us strategically from a geographic perspective.

"We love the two ownership groups. We've been spending time with both of them. We have work to do with both groups. But I'm very bullish on the market."

Garber also said he was "hopeful" about two stadium situations: the New England Revolution's plans to build a new home in Boston and NYCFC's quest to move out of Yankee Stadium after this season.

ESPN FC's Jeff Carlisle contributed to this report.