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Direct from Prague

Jurgen Klinsmann Hits Out at MLS Over FIFA Dates

The U.S. plays the Czech Republic tomorrow but instead of featuring names like Bradley and Dempsey and Gonzalez, it will offer up Gyau and Morris and Hyndman. And no, the coach is not pleased about it.

BY Jeffrey Donovan Posted
September 02, 2014
1:38 PM
PRAGUE–Jurgen Klinsmann, juggling a less-than-first-choice roster ahead of the U.S. team’s first match since the World Cup, fired a shot across the bow of Major League Soccer: respect FIFA fixture dates.

“Our biggest wish going forward is that MLS takes time off at the FIFA fixture dates because it’s a lose-lose for both sides when that happens,” he said today during a roundtable talk with reporters in Prague before tomorrow’s friendly, which opens a new four-year cycle culminating in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Unlike most leagues, MLS doesn’t halt play on FIFA dates, with the exception of key events such as the World Cup. That means top MLS talent often misses vital matches as international players head out on international duty while the league marches on. About 35 internationals left MLS to join their respective national teams this week, but only one of them is on Klinsmann’s roster—Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando.

Klinsmann offered up some advice for MLS: extend the season next year to start and finish earlier. MLS could then “open these (FIFA) slots for the national team program so we can have here, right now, Michael Bradley and Omar Gonzalez and Graham Zusi and Clint Dempsey.”

FIFA dates “are made to develop your national team program globally, and in the past we compromised that because we wanted MLS to do well and we want to do well,” Klinsmann said. But with many MLS stars now mainstays on the national team, and more international players plying their trade in MLS, “it’s not working any more.”

For Wednesday’s match, Klinsmann has brought in players mostly from Mexico and Europe. Many of them are uncapped youth, such as Emerson Hyndman of Fulham and Rubio Rubin of Utrecht, who are both 18, and Stanford University’s amateur attacker Jordan Morris.

Because clubs are obliged to release players for FIFA dates, Klinsmann said he could simply call in whomever he wants from MLS regardless of the wishes of their clubs. Instead, he said, he chooses to compromise with coaches even as the situation leaves nobody happy, such as when he recently approached Toronto’s former coach Ryan Nelsen about bringing Michael Bradley to the Czech match.

“Nelsen said, ‘I’m losing five players for Canada, and I lose now Michael Bradley too?’” Klinsmann said. “But Canada gets the five players. Honduras, Costa Rica, whichever foreign players are in MLS—they all go. But I compromise (on) my own players because their coaches all say we need them now badly because we go toward the playoffs and now it’s really getting hectic.”

He concluded: “There’s something wrong.”

In other comments, Klinsmann reiterated his desire to see top American players competing at the highest levels of the game in Europe’s best leagues. He praised Jozy Altidore for challenging himself by moving from the Netherlands to England, even if the striker has had a rough going at his Premier League club, Sunderland.

While U.S. stars such as Dempsey and Bradley have returned to MLS this season after successful stints overseas, Klinsmann said other U.S. national team players in MLS would probably choose to test themselves in Europe—but simply lacked the offers to do so.

“This is their market,” he said.

Jeffrey Donovan is n ASN contributor and a veteran journalist based in Prague, Czech Republic. Follow him on Twitter.

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