SAO PAULO, Brazil — The morning after the U.S. national soccer team’s elimination from the World Cup, weary players packed their bags to begin summer vacation or, in the case of the MLS-based delegation, rejoin their clubs for the second half of the season.
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann also was heading home, reneging on his recent rallying cry that everyone involved with the program, including himself, should change their plane tickets to July 14, the day after the championship match at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium.
“I want to go home,” he said, smiling and laughing as he exited his final media briefing at team headquarters.
From the quiet comforts of home in Southern California, Klinsmann will reflect on a somewhat successful campaign: advancing out of a treacherous first-round group and pushing favored Belgium into extra time in the round of 16.
He then will begin turning attention to the next World Cup cycle. Unlike most national team coaches, Klinsmann was given a contract extension before this tournament began. So unless he and the U.S. Soccer Federation have a falling out or Klinsmann seeks another job, he will oversee operations through the 2018 jamboree in Russia.
The Americans will return to action with a Sept. 3 friendly against the Czech Republic in Prague.
Since accepting the job three years ago, Klinsmann has regularly shared his vision for American soccer. And now with a dual role as the USSF’s technical director, he carries broader responsibilities. The “locomotive,” as he likes to call it, remains the senior national team.
“Was it our goal to break into the quarterfinals? Absolutely,” he said. “Or even surprise even more people going into the semifinals? Yes. After the ending last night, we have to wait another four years. But it can only grow. Our upside is far bigger than a lot of other countries because the game is breaking through on all levels.”
Klinsmann said he will continue implementing his proactive philosophy from the youth teams to the senior squad.
“The more we get that message to those kids, the more we will benefit a couple years from now,” he said. “When you get out in the round of 16, clearly it gives you the message we have a lot of work still ahead of you.”
Klinsmann said he will begin the process of integrating younger prospects into the national team mix and assessing his veteran corps.
“We want to see the young players grow and see how far they can make it,” he said. “We’ll see how many more experienced players are still in it or how many of them are out. This transition year coming up is the opportunity to bring a lot of young players through the ranks and see what they are capable of doing already.”
Klinsmann’s next testing ground is the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup, a regional championship that offers a berth in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup. The Americans are also building toward the 2016 Copa America, the South American extravaganza, which for the first time will take place in the United States. He has also emphasized the importance of the under-23 squad qualifying for the Olympics, something it failed to do ahead of the 2012 Games in London.
Klinsmann had glimpses of the future during the World Cup: Defender John Brooks, 21, scored the winning goal against Ghana; defender DeAndre Yedlin, 20, was an impactful sub; and forward Julian Green, 19, scored shortly after entering his first World Cup match.
A core of players hitting their prime, led by Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Matt Besler and Fabian Johnson, also will return.
By the time the next World Cup rolls around, Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman and DaMarcus Beasley probably will be gone. Age isn’t the only determinant, though. “It’s always defined by performance,” Klinsmann said.
Tim Howard, whose 16 saves against Belgium were the most in a World Cup since FIFA began keeping such records in 1966, will be 39 four summers from now.
Goalkeepers, though, enjoy longer careers than fellow players, and after signing a long-term contract extension with English club Everton this spring, Howard may stick around. If not, Brad Guzan, Aston Villa’s starter in England, is ready for the lead role.
Asked whether the player pool is good enough to advance deeper than the round of 16, Klinsmann said: “We have to start this process earlier with our younger players so that we are not reacting to the opponent but we are trying to take the game to them. If you get a lesson and lose the game, so be it. I believe it’s more of a mental topic than a talent topic.”