Jurgen Klinsmann was hired to transform American football. Not just the national team, but the nation’s entire coaching structure.
With a sunny disposition and an open, chatty manner, Klinsmann had been viewed as a future United States coach since he retired as a player in 1998 and moved to California with his American wife. After coaching Germany to the World Cup semi-finals in 2006, flirting with the US job later that year and lasting less than a season with Bayern Munich, he finally replaced Bob Bradley when the Americans struggled in the 2011 Concacaf Gold Cup.
“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.”
The 49-year-old Klinsmann scored 47 goals in 108 appearances for West Germany and Germany, winning the 1990 World Cup and 1996 European Championship. His club career included stretches at Stuttgart, Inter Milan, Monaco, Tottenham and Bayern Munich.
He speaks to players with the experience of playing at the highest level in Europe, and he embraces the types of statistical analysis, fitness techniques and advanced diet first employed by American coaches in other sports.
“He’s different, but good different,” United States defender DaMarcus Beasley said. “He’s always full of life. He’s always laughing. He’s always smiling. He’s very energetic, even in meetings. You can tell that he’s happy to be here, happy to be the coach of the national team. I just think his persona will kind of rub off on us and give us that fight and that passion, the same how he played when he was a player.”
Klinsmann’s temperament may be more suited to the United States than it is his native Germany. Former Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness criticised Klinsmann for buying computers to prepare PowerPoint presentations of game plans for the club during the 2008/09 season.
Klinsmann already has committed to coach the United States through the 2018 World Cup. His message to his players often is simple. Despite all the high tech, the most important factor is effort.
“They dream about Champions League and they dream about playing for a big-name club and making a lot of money. It’s all fine. But I’m telling them every time, you’re not doing that by dreaming. You can only do it by working,” Klinsmann said. “So if you think that five, six sessions a week is enough to get there, it’s not. So if you add two sessions a week on your own, it will show a certain improvement.”
For the first time since 1990, the United States head to the biggest football tournament on the planet with no central defenders with World Cup experience.
The reformed defence appears to be as shaky this year as it was in 2010, and offensive leaders Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey have struggled with their form recently.
Michael Bradley, son of former coach Bob Bradley, has become the key figure in the American player pool, which has seen an infusion of German-Americans under Bob Bradley’s successor, Jurgen Klinsmann.
Here are five players to watch:
Tim Howard – Tim Howard is having perhaps his best season for Everton.
The 35-year-old goalkeeper, preparing for his second World Cup as the No 1 choice, will be counted on to blunt the attack of talented opponents such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Mario Gomez.
Landon Donovan – Getting ready for his fourth World Cup at 32, can Landon Donovan provide the spark that helped the Americans reach the 2002 quarter-finals and the second round in 2010, especially after his lengthy sabbatical in 2012/13?
Clint Dempsey – Clint Dempsey, now 31, has struggled for goals for the past year with Tottenham and Seattle, but as United States captain provided a steady presence in qualifying.
Will coach Jurgen Klinsmann use him in midfield or as a withdrawn striker?
Michael Bradley – The son of former United States coach Bob Bradley, 26-year-old midfielder Michael Bradley has become the most influential player on the national team.
Will his January transfer from Roma to Toronto cause a drop in sharpness?
Jozy Altidore – Still only 24, Jozy Altidore seemed to have his breakout season in 2012/13 when he scored 31 goals in 41 matches for AZ Alkmaar in the Dutch league.
But Altidore had only two goals in his first 33 games this season for Sunderland, leading some to question whether he can lead the American attack.