Juergen Klinsmann takes over U.S. team
NEW YORK -- Juergen Klinsmann sometimes sounds more like a youth development director for U.S. Soccer than the new men's national team coach.
The former Germany player and coach was introduced Monday, and he spent much of the time talking about how to mold future American stars, not managing current ones.
"It all starts down to develop the next Landon Donovan," Klinsmann said of the United States one day contending for World Cup titles.
And "one day" is the key phrase; he believes "we still are quite a long way away from that."
"You need maybe 10 Landon Donovans at different positions with different characteristics in order to one day be there," Klinsmann said in an interview.
Perhaps it's partly a way to temper expectations as he takes over from Bob Bradley, whose firing was announced Thursday. The U.S. reached the round of 16 at last year's World Cup, but blew a two-goal lead in a Gold Cup final loss to Mexico in June.
Still, Klinsmann makes it clear he views his charge as bigger than just preparing Donovan and his teammates for major tournaments.
"It also is vital I am involved in all the discussions with a lot of coaches out there, how we improve the grass-roots level," Klinsmann said. "I'm fascinated by that approach."
He contends his background of international experience plus American savvy is the perfect blend to accomplish that. He won a World Cup title as a player and starred for elite European clubs, then coached Germany to a third-place finish at the 2006 World Cup.
But he has also lived in the United States for 13 years and sounds right at home talking about Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane's statistical analysis of baseball.
"I'm not coming in here to play the European guy," Klinsmann said.
His wife is American and he concedes his two soccer-playing kids consider themselves more American than German. Klinsmann feels fluent in his adopted country's culture, that he'll know which parts of the European system will work here and what must be uniquely American.
"It took me years to understand how important this whole education path for people is in this country," said Klinsmann, who just turned 47.
That means college soccer will remain a piece of the development pipeline, as different as that is from other countries. Klinsmann plans to consult with college coaches as he hones his approach.
He repeatedly mentioned MLS teams' growing youth academies as hugely positive development. And he can influence the future of American soccer in a more indirect way, as well. The marketing and success of the national team have the power to inspire young players to spend more time working on their sport.
If there's one area Klinsmann fears the United States lags behind the rest of the world, it's in the amount of time kids spend kicking the ball around -- especially on their own. Basketball has a thriving pick-up culture in America; soccer doesn't.
"That has been the difference even on the highest level when you have a men's national team," Klinsmann said. "What are their technical capabilities? What is their vision on the field? What is their spontaneous decisions -- are they making the right calls? Can they deal with emotions on the field?"
Then there's the puzzle of adopting a universal style of play in the U.S. In soccer powers, there's an identity all the way from the national team down to kids first kicking a ball.
"You have such a melting pot in this country," Klinsmann said, "so many different opinions and ideas floating out there."
But he also believes a national team style that reflects the country's culture can filter down to the youth level.
"You don't like to react to what other people do," he said of Americans, and that suggests a strategy of imposing a style on opponents.
Addressing the great interest in the U.S. women at the World Cup final last month, he said: "I think this is how America wanted to see their girls play that game."
By the way, U.S. Soccer does have a youth technical director in former U.S. national team captain Claudio Reyna, and Klinsmann plans to work closely with him.
Long connected to the job, Klinsmann finally was announced as the U.S. coach Friday. He was introduced three days later at a news conference in Manhattan.
Klinsmann said he had several opportunities in the past year to coach big European clubs or national teams, but didn't want to leave his home in California. He and U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati insisted that control was not the issue when they failed to come to an agreement in the past.
"I reached a comfort level with Sunil where I really think it's not about a paper anymore," Klinsmann said of not being able to get a deal done in writing last summer.
Gulati said the firing of Bradley wasn't simply a reaction to the Gold Cup disappointment.
"It's not a single game or a single result," he said. "It's where the program is, how comfortable we feel in the direction that it's going -- based partly on results, partly on looking at the last year."
Klinsmann spoke to five or six players over the weekend and plans to get in touch with the rest Tuesday. The U.S. team has just nine days before its next game, against Mexico in Philadelphia on Aug. 10. Klinsmann expects to announce the roster Wednesday.
He plans to take a few months before picking his staff to see who's available and what the squad needs.
Gulati looked around the packed news conference Monday and felt good that Klinsmann was inheriting a strong foundation.
"It's also frankly a reflection of where the sport is that there's been so much interest in this," he said, "in this announcement, in the fate of the national team."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
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