U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati isn't happy with Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber's latest criticism of U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann and the national team program, he told ESPNFC on Saturday in a phone interview.
Gulati, who hired Klinsmann to coach the U.S. in 2011 and appointed him as the federation's technical director two years later, spoke a day after Garber told the Associated Press Sports Editors that the league would continue to pursue top American players "regardless of what our national team coach might want to do."
The commissioner's words echoed ones he made in October, when Garber blasted Klinsmann for suggesting that U.S. stars Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey would have been better served by staying in the top leagues in Italy and England, respectively, than by returning to MLS. In his most recent remarks, Garber also questioned how much the U.S. team has progressed since reaching the quarterfinals at the 2002 World Cup.
"I don't know what Don was asked specifically, but frankly, I wouldn't have said some of things he did the way he did," Gulati said.
Gulati, the lone American on FIFA's executive committee and U.S. Soccer's chief since 2006, acknowledged that Klinsmann could have been more diplomatic himself at times in regards to MLS. But he maintained that Klinsmann's has been overwhelmingly positive when discussing the domestic circuit, from which Klinsmann drew 10 of the 23 players on his roster for last summer's World Cup in Brazil.
"He absolutely supports the league and knows it's critical to the national team's development," Gulati said. "The success of the U.S. national team is directly linked to the success of MLS. Jurgen knows that, Don knows that, I know that.
"Let me be real clear," Gulati continued. "If Don or anyone criticizes the national team or its success, that's inherently saying something about where the league is. And vice versa if you criticize MLS, which is central to our national team."
In any case, Gulati believes the evidence refutes Garber's assertion that the U.S. hasn't improved over the last 13 years.
"I think the program has made progress," Gulati said, noting that the U.S. has topped the CONCACAF region in each of the last three World Cup cycles, something it hadn't done before 2005. "We had a great run in 2002. It was certainly a peak in terms of our performance. But progress isn't linear. We'd never advanced to the second round two consecutive times until the last two World Cups. Only five teams have gotten to the second round in three of the last four World Cups, and we're one of them. That's a lot of progress."
Gulati also disputed the notion that Klinsmann's focus is on getting results now, as opposed to the big picture. "I do believe our national team coach has a short-term objective," Garber told the APSE. "That's what he's hired to do."
But Gulati pointed out that as technical director, Klinsmann's responsibilities extend far beyond the senior team's next game.
"Jurgen absolutely has long term goals," Gulati said. "If he didn't, he wouldn't be worrying about our under-16 program or our coaching schools and all the other things that he gets involved in. He absolutely has long-term issues in mind."
What Gulati has in mind is taking whatever rift continues to exist between two of the three most powerful figures in American soccer -- two men he works with closely -- out of the public sphere.
"How we're going to go forward is by continuing to work together and take the tone down on some of these comments, because we're on the same page for 95 percent of the issues that matter," he said. "The relationship between the league and federation is probably better than any in the world, and the success of MLS and U.S. Soccer are intimately linked. The leadership of both organizations understands that."