United States national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann made his first public comments Thursday since Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber fiery teleconference earlier this week, insisting that he never meant to offend the league by questioning its quality of play or the career trajectories of its star players.
Klinsmann told Reuters that his recent comments about the league MLS and US internationals Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley were misinterpreted by Garber, and should serve simply as part of a larger conversation about the future of American soccer.
“I’d simply respond to Don that it’s just not the case and I would never criticize the MLS or the clubs,” Klinsmann said. “I simply try to help the players understand where they are right now and where they could be, and let them know if I see them taking a step backwards a little bit. I just try to wake them up and say, ‘you need to go in the other direction’.”
Garber went public on Wednesday with his concerns about Klinsmann's initial comments, which were made last Sunday ahead of the US national team’s international friendly against Honduras in Boca Raton, Fla. In those comments he said “it’s going to be very difficult for them to keep that same level that they experienced at the places where they were” before returning to MLS.
Garber, during his nearly 30-minute teleconference with media members, stated on repeated occasions that Klinsmann’s comments about the MLS returns of Dempsey and Bradley from Europe were “very, very detrimental to the league.” Garber said he sent Klinsmann a letter about his concerns and told media members he was hopeful he would speak with Klinsmann and US Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati in the near future.
No word yet on whether any of those discussions had taken place yet, but Klinsmann insisted he was not being critical.
“I think some things were a little misread into my comments,” Klinsmann said on Thursday. “Our job on the coaching staff is to help the players understand the level they’re at and how to get to the level we want them to play at. That takes realistic conversations, not critical remarks.”
Klinsmann also added that the back-and-forth between him and Garber should be seen as beneficial to the growth of the sport in United States, in part because it helps advance the discussion about how to improve the level of play.
“It’s great to see that we have debates and public discussions like this because that shows that more and more people care about soccer in this country,” Klinsmann said. “In Europe, in South America and in Mexico, we’re all used to this. It’s part of people’s everyday lives – to have debates about different opinions. It’s just starting now in the United States, and I think it’s pretty cool.”
Klinsmann also praised MLS for its steady growth and its fan support, adding that more success at the league level will offer a positive influence for the US team.
“The MLS has definitely gotten a lot better,” he said. “Every year you can see an improvement in the game. A lot of that comes from the way the league is growing and the environment around it all. The facilities and everything is all becoming more professional all the time.”
"The fan base is growing and so are the expectations of the fans,” he added. “The people really care about their teams in the MLS and that’s just great. It creates more energy. We want to use that energy.”