Don Garber must be a pretty intelligent man to have reached his current station. Former NFL executive, shepherd of Major League Soccer 2.0, leader of men and maker of decisions. Don Garber has got it together.
And Don rarely says anything without weighing out the consequences. He always has his PR conscience on his shoulder, monitoring his words and making sure that nothing is said out of turn. You can ask Don a question, but don't be surprised when the answer reveals nothing; it's Don's job to control the league's image as much as is humanly possible, and information is always embargoed. You'll know when you need to know, or when Don wants you to know.
Which is why I found Garber's comments in Portland yesterday noteworthy. Don was in town for the ceremonial groundbreaking at PGE Park (which won't be PGE Park next year, but whatever), and let fly with some talk about the fortunes of MLS, expansion to the Rose City, and why that expansion even happened.
It's all thanks to Seattle.
That's right, Seattle. That town up the road from Portland that Timbers fans just love to hate is the direct reason that their town now has an MLS franchise. Of course, this is common sense to a degree; if there was no Sounders success, there probably wouldn't be an impetus to get into more Northwest markets. Vancouver probably has the Sounders to thank for their expansion spot as well.
It's one thing for Timbers fans to look at the situation and know that Seattle had something to do with their promotion; it's another for the commissioner of the league to come out and say "Yeah, I'm here because your biggest rival is the jam." Ouch - talk about a shot to the collective Timbers ego. When the hate runs that deep, fans are usually loathe to give credit, even where it's due.
Meanwhile, Sounders fans, as indicated by the link above, have latched onto that little Garber nugget and will undoubtedly squeeze it for all it's worth. Can we blame them? Portland did just buy a billboard in their fair city; if the gloves weren't already off, they certainly are now just six months ahead of the Timbers putting out their first MLS team. This derby, or rivalry, or Cascadia Classic, or whatever you want to call it is rapidly heading towards an on-field and in-the-stands expression of acrimony the likes of which MLS has not seen before.
So did Don know what he was doing? Or was he just caught in a moment of honesty and didn't consider that he was giving Sounders fans ammunition against their southernly rivals? To be fair, it's probably the latter. And no, it's not a big deal. But it is humorous, because Sounders fans will hold over Timbers fans' heads (and vice-versa) even the smallest, most inconsequential, and seemingly obvious, thing.
When Sounders fans unveil a banner at Qwest next year during the first match between the two teams that says "You're Welcome, Portland", Timbers fans will have Don Garber to thank for giving that statement validity.
I'm just having a little fun here, so don't take any of this too seriously. I'm not trying to imply Garber should have been more careful, and I'm happy that he said what he said. More Cascadia fun.