MLS Commissioner Don Garber blasts U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann for comments critical of league

Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber.
Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber.

Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber is fuming and went on the defensive Wednesday over comments made by U.S. national coach Jurgen Klinsmann in Boca Raton on Monday suggesting that decisions by Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey to move from European clubs to MLS are hurting their careers.

Garber called the comments “disappointing, personally infuriating … frustrating as hell.’’

Klinsmann has stated on numerous occasions that he believes players develop better in European leagues, where they compete day in and day out against the top players in the world. He said on Monday that Dempsey’s move from Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premier League to the Seattle Sounders and Bradley’s move from Italian club AS Roma to Toronto FC could weaken their form.

“It will be very difficult for them to keep the same level that they experienced at the places where they were,’’ Klinsmann said as the U.S. team prepared for Tuesday’s friendly against Honduras, which ended in a 1-1 tie. “This league is getting better and stronger every year, which we are all very proud about, and 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. … It’s just reality, just being honest.”

Regarding Bradley’s move from Roma to Toronto, Klinsmann said: “Making that decision going from Roma – a Champions League team to Toronto that now seems like they are not even qualifying for the playoffs – it is a huge disappointment.’’

Garber fought back on a conference call with national soccer reporters. He also said he sent a “very strong letter’’ to U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati, and a note to Klinsmann.

“I feel very strongly…that Jurgen’s comments are very, very detrimental to the league,” Garber said. “They’re detrimental to the sport of soccer in America ... and not only are they detrimental, I think that they’re wrong.

“Sending a negative message to any player that signing with Major League Soccer is not going to be good for their career, or their form, is incredibly detrimental, incredibly damaging, to the league. … I am demanding that [Klinsmann] refrain from making comments critical of our players and damaging to our league.’’

He pointed out that the U.S. World Cup team included 10 MLS players and five whose careers began in the league.

“So, the importance of the league to the U.S. national team has been strong,’’ Garber said. “Contrary to Jurgen’s assertion that MLS has hindered player development. Facts clearly show the depth and quality of U.S. player pool would be diminished.’’

He also called out Klinsmann for publicly criticizing U.S. players.

“I don’t know what possibly could have motivated Jurgen to so publicly criticize Michael Bradley and ultimately Clint. It is concerning to me that it seems to be following a pattern that began with his criticism of Landon [Donovan]. … I regret not saying this before, but I believe Landon should have been in Brazil. His performance dictated it. His treatment was inexcusable.’’

Garber said he wants Klinsmann “aligned with the mutual goal that we have of growing the game and the league’s role in growing that game. In order to do that, we can’t try to denigrate or damage or disparage the very entity that will be the key driver of the sport in this country.”