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MLS commish to clubs: Utilize Messi’s presence

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — MLS commissioner Don Garber said that it is the responsibility of each club, not the league, to take advantage of Lionel Messi’s presence in the competition.

Speaking to ESPN’s Luis Miguel Echegaray ahead of Saturday’s Leagues Cup final between Inter Miami CF and Nashville SC, Garber spoke on a number of topics, including how to build off the inaugural edition of the tournament.

But when asked how, for example, the New York Red Bulls should maximize Messi’s presence when Inter Miami comes to Red Bull Arena on Aug. 26, Garber said: “It is the responsibility of the local clubs to build their fan base. The league is not going to tell them what to do when somebody else comes to town.

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“I know what I would do if I were a coach or a general manager. If I was the president of a club, and I heard Jim Curtin say this in Philadelphia, [I’d say]: ‘Come here and support your team.’

“Yeah, it will be nice to see somebody else wearing that pink jersey and that might be a special moment, but that was an opportunity for the Philadelphia Union to be on their way to winning another trophy.

“The league isn’t going to mandate those kinds of things. It’s really up to our teams.”

Miami claimed the first edition of the Leagues Cup, defeating Nashville on penalties 10-9 when normal time finished 1-1. Garber was effusive in his praise for the attention the tournament gained, and the excitement that was generated.

“So far, in Year One, a smashing success,” he said in reference to the Leagues Cup. “You think about the fact that there is no other league anywhere in the world that has pitted two border-connected, professional soccer leagues together in a competition to sort of determine who really is the king of the road here.

“There have been some unbelievable matches. There’s been enormous excitement and it’s just Year One, so imagine what our future holds.”

As with any new tournament, there are bound to be tweaks and changes. Garber said the Leagues Cup would be no different.

“We have to take a look at the calendar,” he said. “We have to continue to see where does the competition fit in with so many other things that are going to be going on over the next couple years. Certainly, we’ll work with Concacaf on so many of the other operational things and whether that’s officiating or anything else, which, by the way, I think was much better than I think the officials got credit for.

“Ultimately these are all things that we’re going to do in the offseason and sit down with my counterpart, [Liga MX president] Mikel Arriola, and think about what the future is going to hold for us.”

Garber also said that MLS would continue to be about more than just one player, even one as transcendent as Messi.

“It is about the foundation,” he said. “It is about the core of what we are embedded into our community. It’s not just about that great moment to see a special player.

“We’ve had so many great players in the history of our league. It’s not just about that one player. It’s about: How do you feel about your club and can that player give you something that might make it a little more special?”

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