FOXBORO, Mass. -- The gleaming new sterling silver trophy goes to the MLS champion.
The new commissioner spoke hopefully of the league's future.
There's nothing new, though, about its problems -- a shortage of fan interest, frequent player movements that hurt fan loyalties and shootouts that end otherwise competitive games.
"We've got a lot of work to do," Don Garber, who became commissioner Aug. 4, said Monday when the re-designed Alan I. Rothenberg Championship Trophy, named for the league's founder, was unveiled.
The MLS, in its fourth season, has franchises in 12 cities but average attendance hasn't grown much. It's up to 14,491 so far this season from 14,312 last year. But it was 17,406 in the league's first year.
Teams in two of the league's largest markets, the New England Revolution and New York-New Jersey MetroStars, are among the worst in the standings.
"A big problem and something I think we need to address," Garber said.
He became commissioner after spending 15 years as a senior marketing and management executive with the NFL, the last three as managing director for NFL International. He managed all NFL business outside the United States, including NFL Europe.
He succeeded Doug Logan, who said he was forced to resign after serving as the MLS' only commissioner since it began play in 1996.
"We had a honeymoon in the early inception," Garber said. "Some of the interest has settled down in the last couple of years and we're in the process of figuring out how we can relaunch this league in ways that deliver for fans what they're looking for."
Soccer interest in the United States increased during the summer when the Americans won the Women's World Cup in their home country. Yet the MLS didn't capitalize on that.
"There's so much soccer that exists in this country," Garber said. "We're all in there trying to get our piece of the pie. The challenge is to figure out how, ultimately, we can connect all these things.
"There's no sense of panic," he added. "It needs to get to a different level and there's a lot of different kind of thinking that needs to be put in place."
That might include reconsidering the shootout.
"It's something that we're going to meet and discuss sooner as opposed to later," Garber said.
And what about players changing teams so often?
"Player movement is not a good thing in any sport," he said. "We need to figure out a better way to make it work."
Despite all that movement, D.C. United has dominated the league, winning two of the three championships and having the best record this season.
MLS Cup '99, the title game, is scheduled for Nov. 21 in Foxboro Stadium, site of the first championship game in 1996, won by D.C. United over the Los Angeles Galaxy 3-2.
That was played in a downpour but still attracted 34,643 fans.
This time, Garber said, "I hope we will be blessed with reasonably good weather."
That would give him one less problem to worry about.
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