MLS commissioner Don Garber held a remarkably entertaining teleconference with the press for the sole purpose of sniping back at U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann for his most recent criticisms of the league and its star attractions. It did not go well.
Garber was upset by comments Klinsmann made before the U.S.'s draw with Honduras on Tuesday in which he repeated his long-held concerns about the U.S.'s top players leaving the top leagues of Europe to return to MLS.
"There’s nothing I can do about it," Klinsmann said of Clint Dempsey's move from Tottenham to Seattle and Michael Bradley's from Roma to Toronto. "I made it clear with Clint’s move back and Michael's move back that it’s going to be very difficult to keep the same level that they experienced at the places where they were. It’s just reality. It’s just being honest."
Klinsmann also said of Bradley, who was heavily criticized at the World Cup and will miss the playoffs in his first season with Toronto: "He has to prove that he hasn't lost a bit."
None of these statements was anything new from Klinsmann. His handling of Landon Donovan in the lead-up to the World Cup was all the evidence necessary to prove that he's not afraid of controversy. But instead of addressing this privately, Garber apparently watched one too many Mussolini videos on YouTube and decided to go on the record with his personal grievances.
"I will do anything and everything to defend our league, our players and our owners," Garber began before quickly taking his logic train off the rails.
"I don't believe anyone is above the sport. And I do believe everybody needs to be accountable for their behavior whether it's commissioner of Major League Soccer or whether it's national team coach."
He then demonstrated that he only feels the national team coach should be accountable and not the infuriated commissioner of a league that doesn't adhere to international breaks.
"I feel very strongly having spent the last 24 hours about this issue that Jurgen's comments are very, very detrimental to the league, detrimental to the sport of soccer in America. To think that we are not aligned with our national team coach is disappointing and personally infuriating, frustrating as hell."
"Without the League, the U.S. player pool would be diminished. It is just patently untrue that if you play in Major League Soccer it will affect your form."
"I am demanding that he refrain from making comments that are critical of our players and damaging to our league."
Not suggesting — demanding! What Garber seems to be forgetting (aside from everything related to tact and professionalism) is that Klinsmann is not an MLS employee. He's the coach of the U.S. national team. And while doing what he can to help build MLS is certainly in his best interest, ensuring that his best players are challenging themselves at the absolute highest level they possibly can is just as important.
Where Klinsmann's comments were an expression of reasonable competitive concerns, Garber's were those of hurt feelings and corporate propaganda.
To suggest the MLS isn't of the same quality as the top leagues in the world isn't an insult, though. It's the truth. And that should be OK. The league is only 18 years old and has made tremendous strides in that incredibly short amount of time. It deserves the praise it gets for many things, including its development of young American players. But to say that Klinsmann's concerns are "incredibly damaging to the league" and to then "demand" that he not criticize anything related to MLS shows that Garber is trying to create an echo chamber and a personal fantasy land that will ultimately slow the league's development.
But Garber wasn't done there. He also dredged up the Landon Donovan issue.
"I believe that Landon should have been in Brazil because his performance dictated it," he said. "His treatment was inexcusable. I have concerns that [Klinsmann's] criticism of Michael is following that same pattern."
And that brings us back to this question: Why are you telling this to the press instead of Klinsmann himself? As entertaining as this is for the rest of us, it's not a good look for MLS.
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