All the hot-button issues were covered in MLS Commissioner Don Garber's State of the League address from Google's New York Headquarters on Tuesday afternoon. Before answering questions from fans and media, Garber spoke for nearly 30 minutes on topics ranging from the League's youth development initiative to expansion and improving television ratings.
With MLS's goal of becoming one of the top Leagues in the world by the year 2022, all three factors will be crucial in the League's progress toward that distinction.
Currently, 90 Homegrown Players occupy spots on MLS rosters. Furthering the development of Academy players will be a focus for the League going forward. Just as Wil Trapp, Matt Lampson and Chad Barson have emerged as impact players for the Crew, other teams have seen prospects rise through their respective Academy programs.
"Our Academy programs, our youth development system remain a key focus for all of our clubs," Garber said. "It's not just about the Designated Player. It's about what we've been able to do at the development level, trying to develop great young American players for our National Team and National Teams around our region."
Along with player development, expansion and improving TV ratings remain a priority for MLS's vision for the future. Going hand-in-hand, adding another team (or two) in the South to accompany Orlando City SC will help bring TV viewership to an untapped region of the country.
Leading the charge in the South are David Beckham's pursuit to own an expansion side in Miami and Atlanta Falcons' owner Arthur Blank's drive to bring MLS to Georgia's capital.
"In 2004, we had 10 teams. In 2015, we'll have 21. By 2020, we'll have 24. That's nearly two-and-a-half times larger than where we were nine years ago," the Commissioner said. "It wasn't erratic, sporadic, non-strategic expansion. These are teams that have come in with great owners, with great facilities in the right markets with support of fans, with great brands and as you've seen, many of those teams have achieved great success.
"We are in discussions with potential ownership groups in Miami and Atlanta, who would give us some great rivalries in the Sun Belt to match those that we have in the Northeast, Midwest and Pacific Northwest."
Along with tapping into the Southeast, getting the most out of its next television rights deal is high on the League's agenda. MLS's current deal expires after the 2014 season, and Garber is encouraged by the negotiation process so far.
"We're encouraged by the discussions we've been having," Garber said. "We have to have the right partnership with media partners. We need to continue to engage in the digital space and make more and more commitments to understanding our fans and getting behind analytics and understanding how they think and how perhaps they behave so we can feed all of their passions.
"All of this, we hope can be connected in ways that we can at some point soon achieve this vision of being one of the top Leagues in the world."
As fans of MLS turn their eyes to MLS Cup 2013 on Saturday in Kansas City, supporters were able to see the League's broader vision with Garber's address on Tuesday. Although ambitious, with continued success in youth development, expansion and TV ratings, MLS can march on toward being one of the top Leagues in the world by 2022.