Is Garber or Klinsmann Right?

Shots have been fired between the pioneers of the USMNT and MLS
by Roy Rosell   |   Friday, October 17, 2014

Major League Soccer (MLS) 2012 Season Preview

Jurgen Klinsmann and Don Garber, the two men leading the charge for the development of soccer in the United States, each provided vastly different views on US Soccer and what it’s going to take for the national team to grow and improve. At the same time, they’ve managed to captivate the sports loving world, infuriate MLS fans, and feed the underlying sentiment that Garber’s goals are to achieve a safe and profitable structure for league growth, where success rests on a widespread acceptance of mediocrity.

Klinsmann has made it clear that he’s not in support of delaying the progress. But, he wants the progress to happen without the help of his USMNT stars.

Upon being asked of his opinion regarding Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley’s moved to MLS from top tier European teams, Klinsmann bluntly stated “There’s nothing I can do about it. 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 that same level that they experienced at the places where they were. It’s just reality. It’s just being honest.”

At first glance, these may appear to be harsh words, even from the man who is notorious for lacking a filter.

But this is the reason Klinsmann was hired. US Soccer wanted a man who has experienced glory, is well versed in the world’s best development system, who wouldn’t be afraid to point out deficiencies, and most importantly, who isn’t afraid to be vocal about what is best for our player’s development. Tuesday proved that US Soccer and some of its fans got their wish.

To these comments, Garber aggressively responded (likely due to pressure from team owners throughout the league), “Sending a negative message to any player that signing with Major League Soccer is not going to be good for their career or good for their form, is incredibly detrimental to Major League Soccer,” Garber said. “When we have a national team coach who in essence is telling players when they sign with our league that it is not going to be good for their career – and not going to be perceived well by the national team coach who is selecting the US national team – that is incredibly damaging to our league.”

Unfortunately, Klinsmann is just stating what non-MLS soccer fans in the US, and the world, already believe: Retirement league! Dead-end career stop! Major League $h%^! Klinsmann is right! Garber is a joke!

But the point Klinsmann was trying to make wasn’t that MLS is a bad league. In fact, Klinsmann has been quoted multiple times speaking highly of the league and its meteoric rise to global competitiveness. In March of 2014, he even went as far as suggesting that Julian Green and other dual national’s decisions to play for the US is because is because of MLS.

“They see MLS getting bigger and bigger. They see the national team is doing a better and better job, hopefully, and being more successful going down the road. And they see many other opportunities coming up, and they see their part of the American life in their future. It’s huge, it’s huge, and we are thrilled,” said Klinsmann.

The problem, and the reason why such an obvious comment regarding level of competition has become a war between the two powers of US Soccer and attracted global attention is because of MLS’ inability to effectively respond to criticism.

MLS has shown that it has an inferiority complex and is overly sensitive when it comes to criticism. Garber responding by sounding like a wounded king stripped of his throne instead of explaining what MLS is doing to produce an environment where experienced national teamers can continue to grow proves this.

If Januzaj were to leave Manchester United for Belgium’s Standard Liege, or James Rodriguez left Real Madrid for Deportivo Cali, or Alexis Sanchez terminated his contract with Arsenal to rejoin Colo-Colo of the Chilean Primera Division, there would likely be uproar from their respective national team coaches as well.

Is this an insult to the Belgium, Colombian, and Chilean leagues? Like Klinsmann’s comments about MLS, the answer is no. It’s the obvious truth. And it’s hard to imagine the commissioners of those leagues taking comments like that as insults.

So who’s right?

Klinsmann’s insistence on US players challenging themselves in Europe comes from years of successful coaching and playing experience in the game at the highest possible level. He’s a legend in Germany as both a player and coach and is largely responsible for what the German national team has become today. In saying that US players should challenge themselves, he is absolutely right. Klinsmann is shifting us away from the “we’re a young league and growing so fast!” comfort zone and asking questions that we may not like to hear.

In 15 years, Garber has transformed a league that was seen as a complete joke, hemorrhaging money left and right and on the brink of bankruptcy, in to an entertaining, competitive, constantly growing, and profitable league filled with world class players, iconic names, and domestic talent that is attracting more and more interest from the top leagues in the world. Though MLS isn’t a top ten league yet, it appears that with the ways things are going, that milestone isn’t too far away under Garber’s leadership.  

On the other hand, Klinsmann hasn’t built a professional soccer league from the ground up like Garber has and is probably pretty oblivious to the business side of running a league and why MLS management is so adamant to switch to the international calendar, adopt pro/rel, and eliminate the salary cap.  

As for Garber, he’s never played, coached, or taken any part in the development of a player or team, thus, shouldn’t argue with someone of Klinsmann’s caliber regarding what is best for a national team and a player’s development.

So to answer the question of who won, I’d venture to say that fans of MLS won. By laying out his opinions, Klinsmann has taken us away from the “we’re growing!” phase and has demanded an environment where national teamers can grow and become world class players.

If Garber wants to make a statement and nullify Klinsmann’s comments, it’s time to take some risks and inspire action to make this league reach the next level. The focus must be on changing the global perception of MLS, a task that has proven difficult in MLS’ first 18 years. Garber must continue to make strides with building world class youth development academies, increasing player’s salaries, significantly bumping the salary cap, and bringing in younger (and more) world class players.

With a new TV contract, teams, sponsors, and the offloading of the league’s rotten apple, MLS is primed for a jump in quality.

But with extensive criticisms of Donovan, Bradley, Dempsey, and now Major League Soccer as a whole, Klinsmann must tread carefully the next time he thinks it appropriate to provide criticism without following it up with some solutions for change.


Cal Poly Pomona
Club Domestic:
LA Galaxy
Club Foreign:
Absolute fanatic, especially passionate about MLS and it's growth. LA Galaxy columnist with no filter and a knack for the controversial. Travelled the world watching soccer matches, but there's no place like home.