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BOCA RATON Florida (Reuters) - Major League Soccer has trumpeted the return home of leading American players as a sign of the league's rise but United States national coach Juergen Klinsmann is worried players making the switch could be hampered by the drop in standard.
Clint Dempsey's move from Tottenham Hotspur to Seattle Sounders and Michael Bradley's switch from AS Roma to Toronto FC were greeted with some fanfare by MLS but Klinsmann says it may be tough for the players to maintain their standards of play.
"There’s nothing I can do about it. 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 said ahead of Tuesday's friendly against Honduras.
While Dempsey is 31 and former Schalke midfield Jermaine Jones, who recently moved to New England Revolution is 32, the 27-year-old Bradley's move from Serie A to MLS was surprising given it came during his peak.
Having lost his starting place at Roma, Bradley was offered a lucrative and long-term financial deal by Toronto but he was below-par during the World Cup and the Canadian club have disappointed this season, looking almost certain to miss out on the playoffs.
"I think he’s been faced with a very, very difficult year, going from a Champions League club to a team, Toronto that seems like they’re not even going to qualify for the playoffs. It’s a huge disappointment,” Klinsmann said.
For the moment, there is no question of Klinsmann losing faith with Bradley, who has been at the heart of the U.S. team throughout the German's time in charge, but it is clear that he is keen to evaluate the midfielder's form.
"He has to prove that he hasn’t lost a bit. Obviously we’ll keep working and pushing but it’s down to him and his environment to see what level he’s capable to play," he said.
Klinsmann's main striker, Jozy Altidore, is struggling to get a starting spot at Premier League club Sunderland where he has started just two games this season after managing a solitary goal throughout the entire 2013-14 campaign.
There have been suggestions that Altidore may be tempted by a move to MLS but while Klinsmann did not address that directly his comments about the player indicate he would prefer him to stay in Europe.
"I want Jozy to get through the difficult time at Sunderland and maybe make a big step one day to a Champions League team in Europe because that’s where the top players in the world play,” he said.
The former Germany national team coach and World Cup winning striker said MLS was improving but was still a step down for Bradley and Dempsey.
"This league is getting better and stronger every year which we are all very proud about, and I want everyone to grow in this environment," he said.
"But the reality also is that for both players, making that step means that you are not competitive environment that you were in before."
Reporting By Simon Evans; editing by Toby Davis