(Reuters) - Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber hit back strongly at U.S. national team coach Juergen Klinsmann for saying players switching to the league could be hampered by a drop in form.
While MLS has trumpeted the return of leading U.S. players like Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley as a sign of the league’s rise, Klinsmann said this week that players returning from stints in Europe risked a drop in form.
“Juergen’s comments are very, very detrimental to the league, to the sport of soccer in North America ... they are wrong,” Garber said during a heated conference call specifically arranged so he could reply to Klinsmann’s comments.
An animated Garber said Klinsmann’s words, which were made on Monday, were “incredibly damaging and personally infuriating” and undermined the work that MLS and the U.S. Soccer Federation were doing to develop the game.
“It sends the wrong message to other young American players that we collectively - the league and federation - want to have in Major League Soccer so that we can develop the game and the league,” said Garber.
“Juergen needs to think very hard about how he manages himself publicly.”
The MLS chief said he sent a “very strong letter” to U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati and that MLS club owners had done the same independently.
As well as being head coach of the senior national team, Klinsmann is also technical director of U.S. Soccer, responsible for the overall development of players.
“I am just demanding that he refrain from making comments that are critical of our players and damaging to our league,” added Garber, who noted that MLS players had made up a large chunk of Klinsmann’s World Cup squad.
Klinsmann, speaking ahead of Tuesday’s friendly against Honduras, expressed concerns that Bradley, who moved from AS Roma, and Dempsey, who left Tottenham for Seattle Sounders, could suffer a drop in form.
“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,” said Klinsmann “It’s just reality. It’s just being honest.”
Garber also criticized Klinsmann’s decision to leave out national team record scorer Landon Donovan from his World Cup squad in Brazil.
“I believe that Landon should have been in Brazil because his performance dictated it,” said Garber “I believe his treatment was inexcusable.”
Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Frank Pingue