LOS ANGELES : Around 40 MLS players will represent their respective countries at the upcoming World Cup in Qatar, a record number for the North American league, commissioner Don Garber said on Thursday.
“We’ll be among the top leagues in the world that will have players participating for their national teams,” Garber said during his annual State of the League address ahead of Saturday’s MLS Cup final in Los Angeles.
“I think those numbers will continue to grow as our league continues to sign more international players and those players perform at a level that continues to rise.”
Garber said the league takes particular pride in seeing Canada, which is home to three MLS teams, return to the World Cup for just the second time following its lone appearance in 1986.
“I remember standing up here and saying the real test of what MLS was attempting to do in Canada was whether Canada could qualify for the World Cup,” he said.
“There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that it is the result of the teams that we have there, our development of players, and continuing to have a professional environment.”
Garber said MLS, which set attendance, TV viewership and social media records this season, has gained the respect of the soccer world after years being derided as a last stop for international stars entering the twilights of their careers.
“We did not think of ourselves as a retirement league,” Garber said.
“And it forced us to think very differently about what we were going to do and to use all of that energy on home-grown development.”
Case in point, he said that if Argentinian great Lionel Messi was to come to MLS, as it has been rumored he might, the league would not worry about that move feeding into the old narrative.
“We would welcome him into our league today without any thought as to what that would do to the perception of Major League Soccer.”
The World Cup kicks off on Nov. 20.