Where’s the beef? Klinsmann’s comments expose an inconvenient truth for Major League Soccer

What was U.S. men’s national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann thinking when he criticized the level of play in Major League Soccer earlier this week?

Although not following the US Soccer party line like his adversary, MLS commissioner Don Garber, at least he Klinsmann was thinking.

Apparently the former Bayern Munich and German national team coach forgot the one important fact in your adopted country of the United States: It isn’t acceptable to make thoughtful and accurate comments to the media even if they are truthful, honest but critical of a sub-par product like the MLS.

What was good ole’ Flipper’s offense?

Klinsmann had the audacity to say that he was disappointed that national team veterans Michael Bradley (Toronto FC) and Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders) had opted to play in the MLS instead of the elite leagues of Europe.

“It’s going to be very difficult for them to keep the same level that they experienced at the places where they were. It’s just reality. It’s just being honest,” he said. “I totally get it. It’s a huge financial opportunity … (but) making that step means you’re not in the same competitive environment as you were before.”

Unpatriotic and un-American? Indeed.

Subversive and detrimental to promoting MLS? Sure, but completely correct.

While there is too much truth in Klinsmann’s words not to accept them them as fact, Garber blasted Klinsmann for his comments.

“Jurgen’s comments are very, very detrimental to the league. They’re detrimental to the sport of soccer in America and everything that we’re trying to do north of the border. And not only are they detrimental, I think that they are wrong,” Garber said.

Sure the ‘commish knows where his bread is buttered and is simply trying to pump the inhouse product – Woooh! Wooh!.

But surely he realizes that real soccer fans don’t view the league as one of the best on the planet.

It isn’t the first time Garber and Klinsmann have been at odds.

Ahead of this year’s World Cup Klinsmann noted that it would be unrealistic to expect a U.S. World Cup victory.

As for this latest debate about the superiority of the world’s elite leagues in developing national team talent: Please be honest Mr. Garber, despite some star power sprinkled in the on-field product in MLS lags far behind several leagues in Europe not to mention Mexico, Brazil and Argentina.

If the MLS really is an elite league as Garber suggests then why has an MLS team so far failed to represent CONCACAF in the FIFA World Club Championship? This week’s latest football lesson for MLS clubs in Central America serves as further proof, that the North American league is far from one of the best in the world.

That’s because the top MLS teams simply can’t compete with Mexican Primera teams and never will until it can address the quality of play on the field including coaching, player and referee development.

Garber has long held the mythical view that his league could compete with Europe and even foolishly proposed having the MLS schedule mirror those of Europe, before backtracking on that proposal due to the obvious climate issues in many MLS cities.

After Garber’s latest comments, Klinsmann attempted to smooth things over on Wednesday stating that the controversy will lead to a healthy debate about the future of American soccer

In the days before Canada entered three franchises in MLS, former Canadian national team coach Holger Osieck noted that the MLS failed to match the class of Europe when in reaction to former Canadian international striker Alex Bunbury electing to join the Kansas City Wizards instead of staying put in Europe.

Like it or not flag-waving nationalists, Klinsmann’s comments about MLS couldn’t be more accurate.

True, Bradley and Dempsey both developed their footballing skills in the United States but they couldn’t have taken their games without participating in Serie A and the English Premier League respectively.

Despite its success in advancing the beautiful game in North America, one disturbing fact has yet to change in the MLS - there is some truth to the notion that like its predecessor (The old North American Soccer League) the MLS remains a dumping ground for aging washed up former stars of the game with dwindling skills, speed and reaction time.

Torsten Frings, Nigel Rio Coker, Freddie Ljungberg, Rafael Marquez are only but a few recent examples of players whose careers failed to pan out in the MLS after making the jump across the big pond.

There are exceptions to the rule as both imports Obafemi Martins and Robbie Keane proved with their remarkable efforts in Sunday’s thrilling 2-2 tie between Seattle and Los Angeles at the Stub Hub Centre.

But several stars at the top of their games such as Diego Forlan, Didier Drogba, Ronaldinho – who were rumoured to be transferring to MLS at one time or another - must have heeded the ‘washed-up’ writing on the wall.

That’s why Everton star Gareth Barry decided to stay put in England.

On Friday he told the Daily Telegraph “America was an option and there was a conversation about it but when I spoke to the coaches here they said, ‘If you are going there, you are retiring’,”

What Garber and his league have done is an amazing job at promoting and marketing the MLS on a global scale.

The league has indeed elevated its play a great deal since its inaugural season on 1996 but still has much to improve on.

Despite the soccer specific stadiums, lucrative sponsorship deals and television contracts, Klinsmann’s comments are an inconvenient truth for Garber when it comes to the league being considered one of the world’s elite.

Maybe someday the MLS will be considered in this elite class, but until then the truth should hurt a little more than it does Don.