MLS chief insists sky's the limit as US steps up 2018 World Cup bid
Henry move Stateside a signal of Garber's growing ambitions, writes Mark Ogden
Don Garber's seventh floor office in Midtown Manhattan, overlooking the brashness and wealth of Fifth Avenue, befits a man and an organisation with big ideas and unfettered ambition.
It is at the heart of the action, smack in the centre of New York City, and its location is a mission statement for Garber, the Commissioner of Major League Soccer, and the sport in the United States.
Both the MLS and the USA are determined to ensure that, sooner or later, their position in world football reflects that of their headquarters -- central to everything and the place where everybody else wants to be.
Lofty ambitions, perhaps, for a nation with only 20 years of football pedigree to its name, but American soccer is reaching high, on and off the pitch.
Thierry Henry's move to the New York Red Bulls has given the MLS global publicity and Garber expects more blue-chip names to head Stateside in the near future. Sharing top billing with the Premier League and La Liga will take time, but it is the goal of Garber's MLS.
Beating England, Spain and Russia to the prize of hosting the 2018 World Cup is a more immediate aim, however, and despite FIFA's inclination to stage the tournament in Europe, Garber has delivered an ominous trans-Atlantic warning by insisting that the USA is serious about winning the race.
"Our World Cup bid is entirely based on the belief that this country loves the game and will passionately support the tournament," says Garber. "And right now, we have some of the best facilities in the world. The World Cup could quite literally take place here next weekend.
"Our stadiums will be state of the art and the experience will be special. The fact that the MLS continues to grow is one more calling card in our pitch to FIFA that we are worthy to get the World Cup again, 24 years after we had it last. There is no question that great facilities would be a check-box in our favour.
"It's hard for me to say whether it will be a European host in 2018. I can't comment as to whether the FIFA Executive committee is leaning towards Europe for 2018. We have heard that might be the case, but right now, our bid is for 2018 as well as 2022."
Hosting the 1994 World Cup provided the impetus for MLS, but 16 years on, the league still struggles to compete with the established powerhouses of American sport.
Henry's arrival, three years after that of David Beckham, and the rise of Landon Donovan has fuelled the ambition within the MLS to increase the standing of the league worldwide, however, and Garber admits he wants to see the day when the world's A-list players choose his league over its more celebrated European rivals.
"Our goal is to be one of the top soccer leagues in the world. We have a long way to go before we achieve that goal, but we might as well dream big.
"We will only be in a position where we are mentioned with the EPL and La Liga when some of the world's best players are in our league and when American players are playing here, rather than playing abroad.
"I don't know whether that is 10 years from now or 20 years, but we certainly aspire to be in a position where we are bracketed with the other leagues. That's our goal and I think, in time, we will be able to do that.
"Unlike the European leagues, we have never played in the big international transfer market, but I'm not sure that market will be around in 20 years' time anyway."
With Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham all currently on pre-season tours of the States, soccer is benefiting from a definite post-World Cup bounce.
United will face the MLS All-Stars, a team made up of the leading players from the 16 MLS franchises, in Houston on Wednesday, but Garber insists that the passion for the game is growing quickly in the States and is not reliant on the presence of overseas clubs to raise its profile.
"I get dozens of emails a day from a fan group called the Miami Ultras who invade my inbox and Twitter account with messages that they are ready for an MLS team.
"There is massive demand in many of our major cities -- in Atlanta, Detroit, San Antonio, San Diego. There is also hunger for a second team in New York. There are many cities where we can still go, but we recognise that expansion of the league has to happen carefully and that we don't want to dilute the quality of play just as we are working hard to raise it.
"We are thrilled to have Manchester United here, though. They are one of the world's best sides and them being here shows that our league is probably better than people give it credit for."