Insisting that the success and futures of both the U.S. Soccer Federation and Major League Soccer are inextricably linked, MLS Commissioner Don Garber said Wednesday that recent critical comments made by United States head coach and technical director Jurgen Klinsmann are both damaging to the league’s reputation and “personally infuriating.”
In a passionate, impromptu teleconference with media members, Garber spent nearly 30 minutes defending the league as well as the reputation of the players who have drawn Klinsmann’s recent ire, including US and MLS stars Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey.
“Jurgen’s comments are very, very detrimental to our league,” he said. “They’re detrimental to the sport of soccer in America and everything we’re trying do north of the border. And not only are they detrimental, I think they’re wrong.”
Klinsmann has been vocal in the past about US players plying their trade in MLS and the perils of not playing in what he views to be the best leagues in the world in Europe, and he reiterated some of those comments earlier this week ahead of the US team’s international friendly against Honduras in Boca Raton, Fla.
On Monday Klinsmann focused on the career paths of both Bradley and Dempsey, two players who have returned to MLS in the past year after successful stints in Europe. Both Bradley and Dempsey featured prominently during the World Cup in Brazil this summer and will do so again as the Americans begin the slow march to Russia in 2018, but Klinsmann said he was concerned about the two maintaining their level of play now that they’ve returned to Major League Soccer.
“I made it clear with Clint’s move back and (Bradley’s) move back that it’s going to be very difficult for them to keep that same level that they experienced at the places where they were. It’s just reality,” Klinsmann told reporters. "It’s just being honest.”
Garber said Wednesday that those comments were both “detrimental to the league and wrong,” and that they send the incorrect message to other young American players about their career possibilities in MLS.
“Sending a negative message to any player that signing with Major League Soccer is not going to be good for their career or good for their form, is incredibly detrimental to Major League Soccer,” Garber said. “When we have a national team coach who in essence is telling players when they sign with our league that it is not going to be good for their career – and not going to be perceived well by the national team coach who is selecting the US national team – that is incredibly damaging to our league.”
Garber said he felt the need to go public with his concerns about Klinsmann after he spent the past 24 hours discussing the issue with members of the MLS ownership board. He sent a “very strong” letter to US Soccer president and longtime friend Sunil Gulati about the situation and a number of MLS board members also sent Gulati letters on Tuesday. Garber said he spoke briefly with Gulati before the conference call on Wednesday afternoon.
Garber said he also sent a note to Klinsmann about the issue, but the two have yet to speak since that letter was sent.
“Sunil is one my closest friends,” said Garber, who also sits on the board of the US Soccer Federation and has since he became MLS Commissioner in 1999. “The partnership we have with him has led to the league that we have today. I’m confident that he will understand and accept the severity of what is happening here, and insure that [Klinsmann] is in line with the vision that he has publicly stated.”
Garber said he considers his personal relationship with Klinsmann a “very good” one and that the two met just recently and spent 2-3 hours together. Garber added that he was supportive of Klinsmann’s first contract as head coach with USSF in 2011 and his contract extension in December 2013, but he was “shocked to see him so publicly attack Michael and Clint, and disparage the league.”
While Garber steered clear of questions involving Klinsmann’s future employment with USSF, he said he’s hopeful that Klinsmann, Gulati and Garber will sit down and discuss the future of the two organizations and the future of the sport in the US.
Garber added: “[Klinsmann] has done a great job with the national team, but he needs to think very, very hard about how he manages himself publicly, and how he should motivate players that are playing in our league.”