Commentary

Klinsmann's vision for the U.S. team

Updated: August 1, 2011, 3:57 PM ET
By Leander Schaerlaeckens | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- The antithesis of his predecessor, the robotic Bob Bradley, strolled onto the stage wearing sneakers with his suit, a subtle symbolic gesture that perhaps things are going to loosen up a bit. The new U.S. national team head coach, Juergen Klinsmann, 47, no longer looks much the way he did as a German World Cup-winning player and era-defining striker. His blond hair no longer falls down his face in thick tufts. After more than a decade of living in Southern California, he exudes the Zen he preaches to his teams. He looks relaxed and speaks softly. Were it not for the remnants of his German accent, he could be confused for a surfer dude.

On Monday morning in midtown Manhattan, Klinsmann addressed the press for the first time since his appointment on Friday. He spoke candidly and elaborately, addressing topics ranging from the drawn-out hiring process to rotating guest coaching staffs and the state of grassroots soccer in America.

Here are the nine biggest takeaways from Klinsmann's elucidating talk:

1. The roster against Mexico

By Wednesday, Klinsmann hopes to announce his inaugural roster, which will face Mexico in a friendly rematch of the 2011 Gold Cup final in Philadelphia on Aug. 10. He will call up "around 20 players."

2. Knowledge

Speaking for 30-odd minutes, Klinsmann showed off a thorough knowledge of Major League Soccer's structure, history and evolution as well as that of the college and high school game. He has also been keeping track of not just the senior U.S. national team but progress at the U-20 and U-17 levels. "I kind of know already most of the players from watching them," Klinsmann said. So his learning curve should not be very steep.

3. Living in the U.S. was crucial

In the longstanding debate over hiring a foreigner who can bring experience from his exposure to the highest rungs of the game or an American familiar with the intricacies of the U.S.'s weird soccer structure, Klinsmann is a compromise. It's something the U.S. Soccer Federation considered crucial to his qualifications.

"Juergen is experienced as a player and as a coach and is a resident of this country," Federation president Sunil Gulati said. "And I think all three of those are important and we think [are] huge assets. The latter solves the issue of whenever we think of an international coach, 'Will they know America? Will they know the difference between Duke and the Portland Timbers and how long will that take?' And all the things that are specific to the U.S. -- the role of education and geography and so on -- Juergen has that."

"Living here for 13 years, I've gotten to know the U.S. soccer environment for quite some time," Klinsmann said. "Having connected with this country's [soccer scene] in all different environments, whether it's the youth level or college soccer or MLS."

That allows him to strike an informed but fresh tone of an inside-outsider, if you will. "I'm not going to come in and play the European guy, because I've lived here for 13 years, so I know a lot about certain issues that are around here," Klinsmann said. "It's important to understand the specifics of U.S. soccer. It's important to understand your culture, how you grow up and where are your emotions, where are your priorities. It's just a completely different set-up, so it's important that I know all of those things."

4. Klinsmann may have won the battle with Gulati

The sticking point that allegedly twice scuppered negotiations between Klinsmann and Gulati, when the German was approached for the coaching job after the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, was that Gulati wouldn't put down on paper promises made verbally about the head coach's control over the national team's program. Klinsmann insisted it wasn't a struggle for authority. "It's not about power," he said. "It's about a lot of topics that float around, about challenges. It seems like now the timing is right and we had a clear understanding of what we want to do."

Gulati seemed to agree.

"Between us, there's never been an issue of control," Gulati said. "I think it's a bit of a red herring."

Nevertheless, Gulati conceded that whatever was agreed upon this time around has been committed to paper. "We didn't do this on a handshake, that's right," Gulati said.

5. A rotation of guest coaches

Much has been made of who Klinsmann will hire to assist him. He is credited with being a visionary and an innovator, but day-to-day tasks, such as formulating training sessions and plotting out tactics, were handled by his assistant Joachim Loew while Klinsmann coached Germany successfully from 2004 to 2006. In his disastrous spell as manager of Bayern Munich, he had no such savvy second-in-command by his side.

Klinsmann won't commit to a staff for a while yet. "I will work from game to game with different people," he said. "I won't confirm a full-time staff over the first couple of months because I want to see what's out there. There are a lot of good, highly qualified coaches out there in the U.S. that I might not know. We'll talk to a lot of MLS coaches, obviously, and get their perspective and see who I can invite as guest coaches -- guest assistant coaches, basically. I won't just come in and say, 'This is my staff.'

"I will take my time," said Klinsmann, who said he envisions building a network of coaches in Europe "to help U.S. Soccer move forward." That way, he could more easily keep track of the core of players employed on the Old Continent.

6. An influence past the senior men's national team

Klinsmann will have a say in matters beyond the senior national team. "It's about the bigger picture," he said of his role. "Obviously, the main responsibility is the men's team and moving that program forward." He also talked about the youth scene and grassroots soccer and keeping recently appointed national technical director of youth development and national team alumnus Claudio Reyna "very close to me." "He will always be a part of the staff and sit with us coaches at the table, so I can tell him how I look at the game," Klinsmann said.

7. Building on the foundation, not rebuilding from scratch

When asked what he thought of Bradley's much-maligned team, which has had more and more trouble beating mediocre opponents of late, Klinsmann indicated that he doesn't think there are fundamental problems. He said he sees his job as tinkering with the existing structure, rather than making wholesale changes.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with the team," Klinsmann said. "I mean, they lost a Gold Cup final against a very, very good Mexican team that over the last couple of years became one of the top 10 teams in the world. I think that when you come into a situation like this, you analyze every individual player, you analyze the team itself, you analyze the program, which I will get the chance to do over the next couple of weeks and see how you develop that further. So you build basically on what was built already before. And if you look back on the last 20 years in this country, a lot has been built. For 20 years, you've qualified for every World Cup. It's come a long way, soccer in the United States, and I'm now getting an opportunity to move it further, to build on what has already been built by Bob, the last five years, and before that by Bruce Arena and before that by Steve Sampson and so on.

"Certainly, having lived and played abroad in different countries -- Italy, England, France [and], obviously, Germany -- I have my own ideas of how to move a program forward. I will step-by-step introduce some ideas that I have, but always double-check if it suits the American game.

8. A contract through 2014, not 2018

While fans far and wide had hoped Klinsmann would be given the reins long term, his contract will run through the 2014 World Cup. "The commitment we've made for now is through the World Cup, so it's not a seven-year commitment," Gulati said. "We're worrying about the next three years and we'll see how it goes over that period of time."

9. A Latin flavor

Klinsmann had in the past spoken at length about forging an American soccer identity. He indicated Monday he thinks Latin players will be key to that process. While Bradley was widely criticized for not using enough Latino players, Klinsmann will likely take a different approach.

"There's so much influence coming from the Latin environment over the last 15, 20 years that also has to be reflected in the U.S. national team," Klinsmann said.

"Soccer in a way reflects the culture of a country. Having studied the U.S. culture over the last 13 years, it's quite a challenge, because you have such a melting pot in this country. One of my challenges will be to find how a U.S. team should represent its country, what should be the style of play -- is it more of a proactive, forward-thinking style of play or is it more of a reacting style of play."

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at leander.espn@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @LeanderESPN.

Leander Schaerlaeckens

Contributing writer, ESPN.com
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a contributing writer for ESPN.com. He has previously written for The Guardian, The Washington Times and UPI.