By DAN KARELL
Don Garber has stepped into the ring and is ready to play hardball with U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
The MLS commissioner didn’t take too kindly to Monday’s comments from Klinsmann that put the league, and players Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey, in a poor light. In a hastily scheduled conference call this afternoon, Garber held no punches back in his disappointment at Klinsmann’s comments, calling them “detrimental to the league,” “disappointing,” and “personally infuriating.”
“I will do anything and everything to defend our league, our players, and our owners,” Garber said on the conference call. “I don’t believe anyone is above the sport, and I believe everybody needs to be accountable for their behavior, whether its as a commissioner or an owner or an athlete or a national team coach.
“I feel very strongly having spent the last 24 hours, thinking about this issue, discussing it with MLS team owners, members of our board, that Jurgen’s comments are very, very detrimental to the league. They’re detrimental to the sport of soccer in America and everything that we’re trying to do North of the border. And not only are they detrimental, I think they’re wrong.”
Garber was responding to comments Klinsmann made in a press conference in Florida ahead of the USMNT’s 1-1 draw with Honduras, when he was asked if he was concerned with the form of both Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley, who moved to MLS from European clubs within the last 12 months.
“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,” Klinsmann said on Monday. “It’s just reality. It’s just being honest.
Klinsmann later added: “I want everyone to grow in this environment, but the reality also is that for both players, making that step means that you are not in the competitive environment that you were in before.”
Garber’s offensive centered on the point that he feels that Klinsmann was discouraging American players from signing with the league, and claiming that the comments were “at odds” with a shared vision between U.S. Soccer and MLS.
“Sending a negative message to any player, and obviously to U.S. players, that signing with MLS is not going to be good for their career or good for their form is incredibly detrimental to MLS,” Garber said. “We have invested since our founding, billions and billions of dollars in creating a foundation for this league and this sport, growing a fan base, commercializing this sport, creating a dynamic where it’s part of the sports culture, and doing what you hear me say often, which is creating a soccer nation in America.
“When we have a national team coach that in essence is telling players that when they sign with our league, that it is not good for their career, and frankly not going to be perceived well by the national team coach who is selecting the U.S. National Team, is incredibly damaging to our league. In 2014, MLS is going to spend over $30 million on player development programs alone. That investment is going to grow more and more over the next couple of years. Yesterday, Adrian Hanauer, one of the teams that was criticized by Jurgen yesterday, just announced that they’re announcing a USL Pro team.
“So the investment today and our investment in USL Pro and player development is just going to continue to grow over time,” Garber continued. “I think we are leading the development efforts in this country. To think that we are not aligned with our national team coach, it’s disappointing and frankly its personally infuriating. I don’t think it is in line with the shared vision that this league has with the federation, where we have heard many many times that the federation believes that a strong and vibrant first division in the United States is going to be one of the key drivers of the sport in this country.
“To think that our national team coach is in disagreement with that is frustrating as hell.”
What do you think of Garber’s comments? Do you agree with him? Think he’s taking it too far? Do you believe MLS is a league where the top American players are being challenged enough?
Share your thoughts below.