ATLANTA -- Major League Soccer's commissioner Don Garber says that while he understands why a player would choose to skip the MLS All-Star Game, he's still disappointed when a performer like the LA Galaxy's Zlatan Ibrahimovic decides to pass up the opportunity to play in the match.
Garber was speaking to reporters after MLS, the U.S. Soccer Foundation and Target had unveiled a new soccer mini-pitch in Atlanta's Anderson Park ahead of Wednesday's All-Star Game against Italian powerhouse Juventus.
He said he understood the fact that the summer months bring a crowded schedule to the league's teams and that can weigh heavy on the players. He still considers the All-Star Game to be an important event for reasons that involve both on and off-field issues.
"It's not that I'm not sympathetic to those players who make that decision not to come, but this is the most important special event that the league has," Garber said. "It's important for us doing the kinds of things we do off the field, it brings a profile to the league globally. It's important for our sponsors, it's important for our owners, it's important for the soccer community to come together. So I'm always disappointed when players decide not to come."
A league policy stipulates that any player skipping the All-Star Game must sit out the next league match, so Ibrahimovic will miss this weekend's tilt against the Colorado Rapids. Garber defended the rule.
"We have a mechanism in place that rewards those players that do come, and penalizes those players and clubs who make the decision not to come," he said. "It's the right procedure.
"The NHL has the same one, and I hope that I can focus more on guys like Brad [Guzan] and Graham [Zusi] and Michael [Parkhurst] and Josef [Martinez] who are here on their free time when they could be doing something else, and I'm proud of them."
Earlier in the day, Atlanta United manager Tata Martino said that MLS should consider moving the All-Star Game to a different time of year so that the stretch run towards the playoffs wouldn't be impacted. Garber hinted that outside factors limit when the game can be held.
"I understand the challenges on playing the game this time of year, but it is our midseason break and it is a time when we're able to get an international opponent," he said. "I will tell you that I've been in this business 35 years. All-Star Games have great value for fans and for leagues and for players and for partners. But there are always going to be challenges that you've got to work through and every league does."