USSF Confirms Talks With Klinsmann

The Associated Press
Monday, October 30, 2006; 8:11 PM

NEW YORK -- The U.S. Soccer Federation confirmed its interest in Juergen Klinsmann and said it has narrowed its search for an American national team coach down to five finalists. Klinsmann, who coached Germany to the World Cup semifinals this year, last week said he had started talks with USSF president Sunil Gulati. During a telephone conference call Monday, Gulati was full of praise for Klinsmann.

"Eighteen months ago or two years ago, obviously the German federation saw something very special in Juergen," Gulati said. "He hadn't coached until then and they asked him to guide the national team. He was very successful."

Gulati said he started with an initial pool of 13. He did not identify any finalists but said the USSF had not asked for permission to speak to Russia coach Guus Hiddink or Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari.

Klinsmann, a star for Germany's national team during the 1990, 1994 and 1998 World Cups, was hired in July 2004 by Germany's soccer federation, the Deutsche Fussball-Bund. It was Klinsmann's first professional coaching job.

"The DFB looked at a terrific player, a terrific personality, a great leader and said, `This is the way we want to go,' " Gulati said. "Franz Beckenbauer when he coached the German national team didn't have a lot of coaching experience."

Klinsmann lives in suburban Los Angeles and is regarded by many as the favorite to replace Bruce Arena, who was hired as the American coach in late 1998. Arena led the U.S. team to the quarterfinals in 2002, its best performance since 1930, but the Americans were eliminated from a tough first-round group this year. Klinsmann resigned as Germany's coach three days after the tournament, saying he wanted to spend time with his family, and Arena was told in July that his contract wouldn't be renewed.

"Juergen brings a lot of very positive qualities to the possibility of coaching the national team," Gulati said. "He had also indicated a desire to take some time off and has said that he's now taken some time off and he'd be open to having a discussion."

Gulati said "track record of success" is the most important criteria and that "helping us sell the game continuously" is another factor. Klinsmann fits both categories, and his hiring would boost the national team's level of attention. While Gulati wants the new coach to speak Spanish, he acknowledged "it may not be on the first day of the job."

All five finalists gave the USSF the go-ahead to enter the national team in next year's Copa America, South America's championship, for the first time since 1995. That tournament will be played in Venezuela from June 26-July 15, immediately following the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the championship of North and Central America and the Caribbean (June 6-24).

Because both tournaments fall in the middle of Major League Soccer's season, Gulati discussed the matter with MLS commissioner Don Garber.

"This is a strong statement that we, the league, are committed to do what we can in partnership with U.S. Soccer to move this sport forward," Garber said.

The number of changes between the Gold Cup and Copa America rosters will be determined by the new coach. Gulati said most of the finalists for the job also preferred to have the 2008 U.S. Olympic team, which is drawn mostly from players under 23, coached by their top assistant.

© 2006 The Associated Press