On Wednesday MLS Commissioner Don Garber held a media conference call to voice his displeasure with U.S. Men’s National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann after Klinsmann publicly lamented two of his team’s top players leaving Europe to play their club soccer in MLS.
The problem isn’t that Klinsmann thinks American players should play professionally in Europe, it’s that he’s made that clear publicly. And as far as Don Garber’s concerned, that’s bad for business. It doesn’t benefit either party to have leaders of the national team and the top domestic league at odds. But it comes as no surprise that they are, as Garber and Klinsmann are operating two completely different businesses with primarily different goals.
Klinsmann needs to develop and field a single world-class team for meaningful competition every few years. He also needs to ensure his players are training at the highest-possible level while not under his instruction.
Garber, on the other hand, has to oversee 19 franchises this summer (21 in 2015), all while growing the sport in a country where there are four more popular professional sports leagues. On the conference call, Garber outlined not only the challenges, but also the league’s growth:
“We have invested since our founding billions and billions of dollars in creating a foundation for this league and for the sport, growing a fan base, commercializing this sport, creating a dynamic where it’s part of the sports culture in this country.”
Garber has grown MLS by leaps and bounds since he left the NFL to take over the league in 1999. He’s introduced the designated player rules to attract global stars, recently tripled the league’s TV contract and expanded the league from nine to 19 teams (with three more to be added by 2017).
But Garber’s league needs buy-in from Klinsmann — or whomever is running the national team — more than the other way around. If Klinsmann pressures his current or potential players to play club soccer in Europe they’re likely to follow suit. However, Garber needs to be able to market the best young American stars in order to grow his fan-base. And in order to do that he needs them in MLS uniforms, rather than developing anonymously in the international ranks.
Garber has every reason to take Klinsmann to task when he publicly undermines the MLS, as his comments are extremely damaging to the league’s brand. But let’s not forget that both men share one similar goal, which revolves around growing the game of soccer in America. A wildly successful 2018 World Cup performance is Klinsmann’s only concern, but accomplishing that can also benefit the MLS.