NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber says the league will keep on pursuing the top American players, even if U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann thinks they will improve more with European clubs.
Klinsmann said last October that U.S. captain Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley were not "in the same competitive environment" once they returned to MLS rather than staying in Europe.
Speaking Friday to the Associated Press Sports Editors, Garber said the league will stay focused on its plan "regardless as to what our national team coach might want to do."
"We will do whatever we need to do to ensure that we have the best possible American players here, because we have to be a league of choice for everyone that cares about the game, that's players and fans," Garber said.
MLS has several areas for player procurement, among them youth academies, the annual draft that is mostly of college players, Americans and international stars such as Kaka and David Villa, who are both in their first MLS seasons.
"My job is to do everything that I can to grow Major League Soccer and to ensure that MLS is going to be a driver of the growth soccer at the highest level in the U.S.," Garber said. "It's not a short-term goal. It's a long-term objective. And I do believe our national team coach has a short-term objective. That's what he's hired to do. That doesn't mean next week, but it's to win the Gold Cup, it's to have the best possible team in 2018. And our goals and objectives are broader than that, and that's why we agree on some things but don't agree on others."
Garber acknowledged some think the national team has stagnated since 2002, when it reached the World Cup quarterfinals in its best finish since 1930 and lost to Germany 1-0. The Americans failed to get out of the first round in 2006 and were eliminated in the second round of the last two World Cups.
"Some would argue that we've performed pretty much the same way since 2002, and I think the records have actually proven that that's pretty close to being true," he said. "So what we're focused on is ensuring that we're building a system that has a development process, so the American player gets better, and that includes having a league that more people care about, that's more popular, that could generate more revenue, that we could then invest in player development. So that we're not depending on the youth system that's run by volunteers to be responsible for developing male American players, because in the rest of the world, it's developed by professionals."
Dempsey, now 32, left MLS and starred in England for Fulham (2007-12) and struggled for playing time with Tottenham (2012-13) before signing with Seattle in August 2013.
Bradley, 27, also started in MLS and played for Heerenveen (2006-08), Borussia Mönchengladbach (2008-11), Aston Villa (2011) and Chievo Verona (2011-12). He then joined Roma but struggled for playing time before moving to Toronto in January 2014.
Garber said while Bradley "might not have that nicking at your heels thing that exists overseas," he has a competitive environment in Toronto.
"I just don't accept that a guy who's not playing full time and is sitting on the bench and struggling to make the first team is going to become a better player than being the star of an MLS (team) and having to read about himself in the Toronto Sun and having his owner and his coach beating him up every day because he's got to deliver," Garber said.