The roster that new U.S. men’s soccer coach Juergen Klinsmann selects this week to face Mexico on Aug. 10 will probably look much the same as the one his predecessor, Bob Bradley, would have chosen. With only a few days on the job, Klinsmann doesn’t have the luxury of extensive player evaluation, and with a high-class opponent atop the agenda, experimentation will have to wait.
But in the coming weeks and months, Klinsmann plans to emboss his personality and philosophy — and not only on his team ahead of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
On Monday, Klinsmann and U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati made their first public comments since Klinsmann was named to replace the fired Bradley late last week.
“The goal in the short term is qualify for Brazil and do as well as we can there — it’s a three-year project,” Gulati said. “But we think a big part of this program and project — and the excitement with it — is how Juergen can go about influencing a lot of what’s going on.”
“I have my own ideas for the program. And I will, step by step, introduce the ideas that I have, always double-checking if it suits the American game,” said Klinsmann, 47, a former striker for Germany and World Cup coach who has lived in Southern California since retiring in 1998.
“I’m not coming in here to be the European guy. I’ve lived here for 13 years, so I think I know a lot about certain issues. But I think you can also be proud of what you’ve achieved over the last few years, where soccer is now.”
New to the job, Klinsmann didn’t outline specific plans. But he said he would work closely with former U.S. midfielders Claudio Reyna and Tab Ramos, both of whom are working for the USSF in youth development.
He’ll also gain input from guest assistants, who will serve by his side for the Mexico match as well as friendlies in September against Costa Rica and Belgium. He said he is in no hurry to appoint a full-time staff.
Klinsmann and Gulati had dinner Sunday with MLS Commissioner Don Garber to discuss the league’s role in the national team’s development.
Klinsmann’s hiring comes at a time when the broader U.S. program is ripe for change. The under-20 and under-23 squads are without head coaches, the under-17 side is coming off a weak showing at the world championship and the senior national team is in a lull before World Cup qualifying begins next June. (The USSF plans to schedule several additional friendlies this fall and early next year.)
In both 2006 and 2010, Gulati and Klinsmann discussed the job but failed to reach terms.
“The understanding that we’ve had about moving forward and collaborating, quite frankly, has been pretty clear for many years,” Gulati said. “How to best incorporate that is something that we’ve been able to get through.”
Without detailing the negotiations, Klinsmann said: “We talked our way through it the last couple of years, and now felt like it was time.”
Klinsmann’s contract will run through the 2014 World Cup. Terms were not disclosed.
In the big picture, aside from qualifying for the World Cup and advancing to the knockout stages, he wants to influence player development.
“There are a lot of different challenges ahead of us, especially on the foundation level,” he said. “How they should be trained, how often they should train, how much time they should spend with the ball, how they should develop their talent. . . . It’s come a long way but we have a ways to go still to break into those top 10 in the world. We need to be realistic that we are not belonging there right now, or not yet.”