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AP Interview: MLS wants English to buy US teams

By Rob Harris
AP Sports Writer / March 3, 2010

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MANCHESTER, England—Having failed to convince Barcelona and Real Madrid to invest in Major League Soccer teams or start new franchises, MLS commissioner Don Garber is turning his focus to English Premier League clubs.

Barcelona had been looking to buy partial ownership of a MLS expansion team but negotiations collapsed. However, Garber hasn't given up on forging partnerships that could not only bring in investment but also new methods and links with bigger competitions.

"We think it would be smart for us to have an international team sitting around our board table and helping to influence the way we think and perhaps connect us even more closer with the international community," Garber said in an interview with The Associated Press at SoccerEx.

"We tried with FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, and we will continue to talk to the Spanish clubs while finding some way to see if there is an investment opportunity with any of the English clubs. We are not anywhere close to that on any level yet."

One club that could be persuaded to invest in north America is Manchester City. Garber met Monday with City chief executive Garry Cook, whose club has been transformed by a major injection of money since Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mansour's takeover in September 2008.

"Part of the relaunch of that team is for them to think strategically about their business and where international expansion fits into that, and where the U.S. might fit into that," Garber said. "We've had very preliminary discussions about that. They've got a lot of figuring out to do on their own end in terms of what their international plans are."

Garber argues that MLS teams need greater exposure with soccer outside the United States to improve playing standards.

"We could learn a lot about youth development and coaching and the technical side of things," Garber said. "On the technical side, we still need help and I like to think we are not creating an American version of the world game. I would like to think we are part of the world game, and in order to do that we need to have more deep association with the global football community."

A recent trend has been Americans buying English clubs, with Malcolm Glazer at Manchester United, George Gillett Jr. and Tom Hicks at Liverpool, Randy Lerner at Aston Villa and Ellis Short at Sunderland. Stan Kroenke has a majority stake in Arsenal, and owns MLS's Colorado Rapids.

"Just like it's good in my view to have American sports team owners in England, it would good for MLS to have an English club investing in our league," Garber said. "I would love to see an opportunity for an equity investment. It would be good for us."

A new MLS team could be bought for about $40 million, Garber says, in the next round of expansion.

Philadelphia is the only new team in 2010, while Portland, Ore., and Vancouver will join the MLS in 2011.

Some English clubs already play in the U.S. in the summer, with Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham possibly making the trip this July. Garber said helping to grow the sport is the next logical step for interested clubs.

"Whether it's an existing team or an expansion team is irrelevant to me," Garber said. "But I would see over the next number of years us continuing our connection with international football clubs, and having it go beyond representing them in the United States for brand development and fan opportunities."