Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber took the extraordinary step Wednesday of criticizing United States men’s national team Jurgen Klinsmann for not taking Landon Donovan to the World Cup and for saying Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley damaged their careers by returning to MLS from European clubs.
Garber, the league’s commissioner since 1999, questioned whether Klinsmann could be an effective coach while publicly criticizing MLS.
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A U.S. Soccer Federation official, speaking on condition of anonymity because no statements were authorized, said later that Klinsmann wasn’t in danger of losing his job.
The 32-year-old Donovan, the career scoring leader for the national team and MLS, was cut by Klinsmann in May and denied a trip to a fourth World Cup.
”I believe that Landon should have been in Brazil, not because he earned it or deserved it, but because his performance dictated it,” Garber said during a conference call with reporters. ”And if anybody disagrees with that, and some of you might – clearly Jurgen does – then I believe that his treatment was inexcusable.”
Klinsmann, a World Cup champion with West Germany in 1990 and coach of the German team that reached the 2006 semifinals, was hired by the USSF in July 2011 to replace Bob Bradley. Klinsmann coached the Americans to the title at the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup and the second round of this year’s World Cup, where the U.S. lost 2-1 to Belgium in overtime.
USSF President Sunil Gulati announced in December that Klinsmann had signed a contract extension through the 2018 World Cup in Russia and had been given the added title of USSF technical director.
”For him to publicly state issues that he has with Major League Soccer in my view is not something that is going to allow him to effectively serve the role as not just coach but as technical director,” Garber said. ”I am in no way saying what Sunil should be doing with Jurgen as it relates with his employment. That is between Sunil and Jurgen. I think he’s done a great job with the national team. I think he needs to think very, very hard about how he manages himself publicly and how he deals with his view as to how he should motivate players that are playing in our league.”
Klinsmann and Gulati did not immediately respond to Garber.
Asked what should happen next, Garber said: ”I want Jurgen to embrace the vision, and I believe we all need to sit down and talk about his alignment with that vision.”
Klinsmann sparked the controversy Monday in Boca Raton, Florida, in his comments before an exhibition game against Honduras the following day. He said the national team was hurt by Dempsey’s August 2013 decision to leave Tottenham and the choice of Michael Bradley – Bob’s son – to depart Roma for Toronto this January.
”It’s going to be very difficult for them to keep the same level that they experienced at the places where they were. It’s just reality. It’s just being honest,” he said. ”I totally get it. It’s a huge financial opportunity … (but) making that step means you’re not in the same competitive environment as you were before.”
Klinsmann had expressed similar sentiments earlier this year. Garber, a member of the USSF board of directors, called this week’s remarks ”personally infuriating.”
”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 that they are wrong,” Garber said.
”Sending a negative message to any player and obviously to U.S. players that signing with Major League Soccer is not going to be good for their career or good to their form is incredibly detrimental to Major League Soccer. We have invested since our founding billions and billions of dollars in creating a foundation for this league and for the sport, growing a fan base, commercializing this sport, creating a dynamic where it’s part of the sports culture in this country.”