Jurgen Klinsmann's Comments are Good for MLS
On Wednesday, MLS Commissioner Don Garber called an impromptu teleconference to address comments made by United States Men's National Team coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, over the last two weeks.
Klinsmann's comments revolve around the quality of play found in MLS compared to that found in Europe, encouraging US players to take their talents overseas and challenging those (Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Jermaine Jones) that have returned to Major League Soccer to maintain the form they discovered while playing in Europe. Although Klinsmann's comments are less than ideal for MLS, they certainly are not what Garber labelled them on Wednesday.
Throughout the teleconference, Garber interpreted Klinsmann's comments as "damaging," "personally infuriating" and "detrimental" to Major League Soccer.
Initially, it seemed that Garber was displaying the kind of bravado expected from commissioners when the standard of their league is questioned. Bud Selig, Roger Goodell, and Adam Silver would all do the same if the quality of their respective league were questioned. Here's a snippett from the teleconference:
"Jurgen's comments are very, very detrimental to the league. They are detrimental to the sport of soccer in America... Not only are they detrimental, but I think they are wrong."
Garber seems to take personal offense to Klinsmann's analysis of MLS. And he can't be blamed for that. Garber has taken MLS from a struggling, lower tier league with weird rules in 1999 to a thriving, expanding league that is oh so close to following FIFA's expectations for domestic competition. So, many of Garber's comments are excusable. His passion for the success of soccer in America authorizes them. He's spent the last 16 years investing in the success of a first division in the United States that is inching nearer and nearer to the highest level of competition-- but isn't there yet. Garber knows that.
MLS is not on the same level as the Premier League, La Liga, Ligue 1, the Bundesliga or Serie A-- and no one expects it to be. For Garber to take such offense to comments that are painfully obvious is confounding.
But Klinsmann's comments are unlikely meant to belittle MLS or assign it to the lower ranks of domestic leagues. Rather, Klinsmann's comments issue the same challenge to MLS that he has issued to his players: Prove your worth.
Klinsmann's mantra for the USMNT has been that "no player is safe." He proved his point with Landon Donovan. If you don't put in the work, if you don't excel everyday, if you aren't impressive in practice then you wont be on the squad. If MLS isn't able to compete at the highest level, Klinsmann is not going to endorse it. He's an ultra competitive guy who only wants the best for American soccer. That means having Americans playing in the best leagues against the best competition from around the world.
And currently, MLS is not in that conversation. However, under Don Garber's leadership, it eventually could be.
So, if Don Garber and MLS owners are offended by Jurgen Klinsmann's comments about MLS and his expectations for national team players, they're left with one logical response: get better.