Tottenham striker Jermain Defoe and retired England star David Beckham are the type of player Major League Soccer needs to achieve its goals, MLS commissioner Don Garber said Tuesday.
Four days before the North American league launches its 19th campaign with Defoe set to play for Toronto, Garber stressed the need to keep top American talent as well as sign big-name global stars such as Beckham, who left Real Madrid for the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007.
Achieving MLS goals of becoming an elite-level league "includes getting big time international players like David and Thierry Henry and now Jermain Defoe," Garber said.
French star Henry joined the New York Red Bulls in 2010 and Defoe and US midfielder Michael Bradley left Europe for Toronto this year.
Canadian rap music star Drake was among those who encouraged Defoe to move to Toronto while Beckham has spoken with NBA star LeBron James about being a part-owner of his Miami MLS expansion team and actress Eva Longoria took to Twitter to help San Antonio's bid for an expansion team.
"There's an incredible integration between sports and entertainment," Garber said. "It just adds a little bit to our credibility and ties into that millenial sports fan idea of what's hip and what's hot."
Relegation and a champion crowned from a season of matches rather than a playoff system, staples of most elite global leagues, are not foremost in Garber's mind, saying neither is in MLS' plans.
"We're going to need to configure our competition to where our broadcast partners are going to get the most viewers and that means playoffs," Garber said.
"We have got to be in a situation where our clubs are making money so we can invest in this business."
Expansion teams are coming to Orlando, New York and Miami with Atlanta and Minnesota prime contenders for future new clubs and Garber looking at attendance figures for pre-World Cup exhibitions and European club visits to US venues.
"If you don't have support for big games, you're not going to have support for MLS teams," he said.
This figures to be a key year with the World Cup finals in Brazil to build upon, likely including several MLS players on the US squad, as well as new US television deal talks and negotiations with referees and players unions.
Imcomplete talks with officials on a new deal raise the spectre of replacement referees for the weekend start of the season.
"We will be opening up this weekend with referees and we are absolutely in position to have a contingency plan if those discussions do not end positively," Garber said. "Nothing is going to stop us from having a strong opening."
Garber said he was confident the league and its players union would work together to help the sport grow in North America in talks to replace a bargaining deal that expires after this season.
"All negotiations are tough. We're mindful as are the players this will be a challenging process," Garber said.