Agoos, a National Soccer Hall of Famer and the 1996 MLS Defender of the Year, now is the league’s vice president of competition.
NEW YORK — Jeff Agoos is far from the only former player to have found a second home at Major League Soccer’s Manhattan headquarters, but he’s among the most prominent.
As a hard-nosed center back, Agoos won the inaugural MLS Cup with D.C. United in 1996 and was named the league’s Defender of the Year five seasons later. He made 134 appearances for the U.S. national team and was elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2009.
Following retirement, Agoos was named the New York Red Bulls’ Technical Director by then-coach Bruce Arena. He made his way to MLS in 2011, eventually earning a promotion to Vice President of Competition.
“The mission of the competition department is to provide a game that is authentic as possible and coveted by as wide an audience as possible,” Agoos, 48, said somewhat grandiosely of the title. “Our role is to make sure that the game’s spirit, soul and integrity remains intact. Our goal is to ensure that the competition remains pure.”
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As to what that entails more specifically, Agoos elaborated on that and other topics Tuesday.
Starting with the occasionally maligned role of the league’s disciplinary committee, Agoos said: “As a former player who received a number of fines myself, I understand the disciplinary committee’s function. The mission of the disciplinary committee is to provide a very safe environment and maintain the integrity of the league.”
Before the gruesome, high-profile injuries suffered by then-Sounders player Steve Zakuani and others during the 2011 season, the disciplinary committee could retroactively punish players only for fouls that directly led to injury. Now the committee hands out fines and cards for fouls that had been overlooked.
“Our owners — and our coaches, too — have really wanted us to move the pendulum over to where the committee can now act and modify player behavior, to create a safe environment,” Agoos said. “If we’re going to make a decision, we err on the side of player safety. We understand that, coming from the lens of a club, it looks harsher, but by and large, I think we’ve been doing the job we’ve been asked to do. ”
Twelve of the league’s 20 teams make the postseason, meaning all but the dregs stay in contention until the final weeks of the regular season. But the percentage of playoff qualifiers has dropped drastically since MLS’ first few years, when eight out of 10 would get in.
Those numbers will start to shift again as soon as next season, as MLS expands to 22 teams in 2017, 24 in 2018 and potentially to the 28 recently floated by commissioner Don Garber.
“When we get to 24 teams, then we’re at 50 percent (that make the playoffs), then at 28 we’ll be below that, (at) the 45 percent range assuming we don’t go up from there,” Agoos said.
“I think it’s the right number. I think the format is compelling. But we’re always looking to see if we can improve.”
As a former player and an MLS original, Agoos can add a unique voice to the league hierarchy and occasionally acts as a liaison between owners and his former colleagues. He played for three clubs — D.C., San Jose and the since-rebranded Metrostars — over a decade.
“To be able to empathize and speak in a language that’s similar to how our coaches and players come from is incredibly helpful,” Agoos said.
Youth development also falls under the competition department’s purview.
“We can always be better at developing players,” Agoos said. “My sense is that it’s not a youth development issue. It’s more of a coaching development issue. We have a lot of incredibly talented coaches who want to learn, and we need to give them experience.
“We get better coaches, we get better players. We get better players, we have a better second team and then a better first team. There’s this knock-on effect.”