After he scored one goal and assisted on the other in Germany's
2-0 whitewashing of the U.S. on June 15, 33-year-old striker
Jurgen Klinsmann was asked if he plans to come to America after
the World Cup. "Yes," came the smiling reply, "when I'm on
vacation." Klinsmann's coyness notwithstanding, MLS has mounted
a full-bore offensive to sign him for the 1999 season. Deputy
commissioner Sunil Gulati said last week that he had spoken with
Klinsmann's lawyer, Andy Gross, and that he and Gross planned to
meet this week at the site of Germany's second-round match,
either Montpellier or Toulouse. "We wouldn't announce an
agreement until after Germany has either won the World Cup or
has been eliminated," said Gulati, who negotiates all of the
league's player contracts.
At 33, Klinsmann (18, here against the U.S.)
still shreds defenses.
If Klinsmann signs, MLS will have been aided by a felicitous set
of circumstances. Jurgen's wife, Debbie, is a California native,
and they and their infant son often visit the U.S. on vacation.
The Klinsmanns own a house in Santa Barbara, and, according to
Gulati, Jurgen has said he would be willing to play for either
the Los Angeles Galaxy or the San Jose Clash.
Although he made $1.6 million with the English club Tottenham
Hotspur last season, Klinsmann might agree to take the
precipitous pay cut that would come with a move to MLS, which
has a maximum annual salary of $276,500. "We could afford
Jurgen, because he's a free agent [meaning MLS wouldn't have to
pay a transfer fee] and because he's interested in being in the
U.S.," Gulati said.
There's hardly any other hot player at the World Cup whom MLS
can afford. Although the tournament has always been a bazaar for
clubs in search of emerging talent, the three-year-old MLS has
no plans to pursue any other foreign participant. "Anyone that
we identify as a good player has been identified by 12
[non-U.S.] teams that have more money," Gulati said. "So if,
say, an African player is playing well, [Italian clubs] AC Milan
and Lazio get in line, and that's when I get out of line."
As a result, Klinsmann aside, MLS is planted firmly on the
supply side of the World Cup market. According to Gulati, since
the start of the tournament European clubs have expressed
interest in four MLS players on the U.S. team, while a South
American club has contacted him about a fifth. Gulati refused to
identify any of the players, noting that they had no knowledge
of the inquiries. "I'm not going to distract any U.S. players
while the team is still in the World Cup," he said. "We'll deal
with this afterward."
Issue date: June 29, 1998