Jurgen Klinsmann and Don Garber are fighting for the future of soccer in our country. On Monday, USMNT coach Klinsmann, one of the stewards of American soccer, again expressed his displeasure with Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey’s return to MLS:
“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 the same level that they experienced at the places where they were, Klinsmann said. “Reality is that both players making that step means that you are not in the same competitive environment that you were before.”
Yesterday, MLS commissioner Don Garber fired back, saying:
“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.’’
My opinion of Klinsmann is public and not glowing. Frankly, I think he is an overrated dick. His comments about Bradley, Dempsey and MLS were boorish and inflammatory. While Garber’s response was rushed, overly defensive and, unfortunately, only served to legitimize Klinsmann narrative, in that, now we are all talking about it.
I am glad Garber said something. I’d rather he defend his league then shrug and go, “Yup, we have an inferior product. Our soccer ain’t no good and never will be.” Garber has made no secret about this desire to see MLS become an elite soccer league. And he is actively working toward this through expansion and television contracts. All it takes is enough money to start the ball rolling, and no one pimps marketing and chases profit like America. With our country’s population and wealth, MLS could soon become a destination league. If not the best, one of the best. As one of the stewards of the game, Garber needed to say something. To allow the head coach of the USMNT to bag on his league and two of it’s premier American players, would be unconscionable.
MLS is not a top shelf league. Maybe top ten, but not even close to the big boys. Everyone knows this, so hearing it from the premier soccer boss in the country is no big surprise. Many Americans, let alone Europeans and South Americans, still scoff at MLS and those that follow it. But MLS just had a great year with Deuce and Bradley’s return, expansion, and Klinsmann selecting almost half of his Brazil roster from the league (in fact, with the arrival of Damarcus Beasley and Jermaine Jones, 7 of the 11 starters from the USMNT’s final game against Belgium are rostered in MLS). MLS’s star is rising. During the World Cup, a broadcast watched by billions, the word “MLS” was said multiple times (as were team names Seattle Sounders, Los Angeles Galaxy, etc.). This is huge exposure for a league fighting for legitimacy.
Klinsmann has massive gravity. He just championed a great run at the World Cup, and soccer in this country has never been more popular. A whole generation of young soccer players wants to make his rosters: U20, U23 and the senior team. So when he speaks, people listen, especially aspiring American soccer players, listen. When Jurgen craps on the domestic league, he is doing a great disservice to American soccer. Sure, Klinsmann’s only job is to win games for the USMNT, but the metajob here is growing soccer in the States. His comments actively undermine that by comprising MLS’s pipeline of domestic talent. After all the positive publicity MLS received this summer, a Jordan Morris might’ve been inclined to say, “You know I can go to MLS and chase my dream. I can do this.” After Jurgen’s comments, the Morrises of the world may think, “Sheesh, I better go to Europe.” This is not good for our country’s growing soccer culture. If we want to win a World Cup, we need a strong MLS.
Humor me a moment. I am from Alaska, and my home state suffers a brain drain. I left. Most of my friends left. There just aren’t enough opportunities back home: education, career, etc., so people leave. This does not help Alaska progress. An exodus of ambitious young people does not help Alaska foster the vibrant society and economy that could retain these people. I’d give almost anything to make a life back home, it’s the most goddamned beautiful place on earth. But I just can’t make a go of it, and neither can many of my fellow statesmen. So Portland and Seattle and the Lower 48 benefit at Alaska’s expense. We do not want an American soccer drain. We can’t be content to always lose our most talented to cities overseas. Klinsmann’s comments were so 2004. We need to change this paradigm. MLS is pretty good now, but we need people who’ll work to make it better. Then, and only then, with a strong MLS and a crowded pipeline of young American talent, will we one day be kings of the world.