NEW YORK — Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber hopes the winner of Friday’s election for FIFA president institutes sweeping change.
"I feel very strongly that this is a moment of truth for our sport," he said Monday. "I hope — really, truly hope, that the leaders of the sport can come together and pick a president that could represent a new FIFA for all of us and not somebody that will just be a new name, but represent some of the old ways of doing business."
Garber is among the U.S. delegates attending the FIFA Congress in Zurich on Friday. Sheik Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa of Bahrain and Gianni Infantino of Switzerland — the No. 2 official of Europe’s governing body — are viewed as the leading candidates. Prince Ali Al Hussein of Jordan, Jerome Champagne of France and Tokyo Sexwale of South Africa also are running.
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Sepp Blatter announced in June, just four days after he was elected to a fifth term as president, that he planned to resign, a decision that followed the first round of indictments against soccer officials by American prosecutors.
Blatter was suspended by FIFA in October and given an eight-year ban in December for conflicts of interest, loyalty and general rules of conduct violations, a penalty he is appealing.
Salman, president of the Bahrain Football Association from 2002-13, has been accused of helping identify players to be detained if they attended protests. Some players said they were tortured; Salman called the allegations "nasty lies."
Garber said he didn’t know enough about the charges to comment, but added: "I hope the members could elect somebody that we all can be proud of and that we all can feel empowered by what he might represent for a new direction for the sport."
Garber spoke at an event to announce TAG Heuer’s partnership with MLS and the U.S. Soccer Federation. As part of the deal, the watchmaker’s ads will appear on the sleeves of on-field MLS officials and on substitution signboards.
On other topics:
With Atlanta set to become MLS’s 21st team in 2017 and Los Angeles FC joining in 2018, Garber said the league likely will decide in March whether Minnesota United starts play in `17 or `18. He hopes David Beckham’s Miami team can start in 2018, but that deal is dependent on an agreement to build a new stadium.
"In Miami, a city where we failed once before, we’re going into it with a bit more trepidation, and we have very specific requirements of what we’ll accept from the Beckham group before we go forward," Garber said.
MLS announced in December it intends to expand to 28 teams, but did not set a timetable.
"There’s a lot of activity in St. Louis. There’s a lot of activity in Detroit. There’s a lot of activity in Sacramento," Garber said. "We got to get the whole round right, because that will likely be the last round of expansion in Major League Soccer."
MLS rosters this year include Steven Gerrard (35) and Ashley Cole (35) of the LA Galaxy; and Frank Lampard (37) and Andrea Pirlo (36) of New York City FC.
"People pay attention to the guys that are signed that are 34, 35, but they don’t pay attention to the dozens that are signed in their 20s," Garber said, adding surveys conducted for the league show fans want "increased quality of play … but they also want stars."
On competition from Chinese teams following the departure of Obafemi Martins from Seattle for Shanghai: "It’s a big player for one window. … We’ll see what it looks like years from now."
CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
MLS teams play this week in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League, even before their league openers. "I’d love to see CONCACAF to understand the importance for the competition for MLS to be in stride when the most important games matter," Garber said.