U.S. Under-20 National Team

Klinsmann addresses culture, style, youth development in first remarks as coach

Klinsmann (Getty Images)


NEW YORK — The U.S. Soccer Federation did not just hire the 35th head coach in national team history, but it perhaps altered the direction of the entire national team program.

Jurgen Klinsmann, the first foreign-born U.S. national team coach in 16 years, touched on a few topics during his first press conference since being hired to replace Bob Bradley on Friday, but he frequently emphasized the culture and direction of soccer in the United States.

Klinsmann mentioned numerous times that "it's important to understand your [U.S.] culture." And after living in the United States for the past 13 years, Klinsmann feels he is ready to incorporate more of this country's melting-pot society into the U.S. team.

"There's so much influence from the Latin environment that has to be reflected in the national team," Klinsmann said.

This Latin influence could mean a bigger role in the national team for multi-national Americans such as Jose Francisco Torres and Edgar Castillo. Also, this Latin infusion will certainly have an affect over one of the Klinsmann's most difficult tasks: finding a style of play for the national team.

"One of my challenges will be to a way to define how the U.S. team should represent it's country," Klinsmann said. "And what should be the style of play? Is it more pro-active and agressive kind of forward thinking style of play or is it more of a reactive style of play? That comes with the obviously the players you have at your disposal, but also with the people that your surrounded with.

"I think it is important over the next three years that I have a lot of conversations with people involved in the game here to find a way to define that style. What suits us best? What would you like to see?"

Style of play was not the only big question that U.S. fans were pondering for which Klinsmann didn't have clear answer. He said that he has only had contact with a handful of U.S. players and hasn't picked his squad for the Mexico friendly yet. That announcement will come Wednesday. Also, Klinsmann hasn't picked a full-time staff yet.

"I want to see what's out there," Klinsmann said. "There are a lot of good, highly qualified coaches in the U.S. that I might not even know. So, I need to talk to people and understand what's out there."

The former VfB Stuttgart and Bayern Munich star will accomplish this task by trying out different assistant coaches ahead of World Cup qualifying in June. Then he will pick a permanent staff based off his experience with these assistants. However, Klinsmann did make individual reference to two current figures in the U.S. system.

"I want Claudio [Reyna] very close to me in terms of helping in his new role as Technical Director of Youth Development," said Klinsmann, whose previous coaching stints were with the German national team and Bayern Munich. "He will always be part of the staff. He will sit with us coaches on the table, so I can tell him how I look at the game. As well as Tab Ramos, who is the U-20s coach for right now. I want his perspective and information on what's going through at training at the 20s and the U-17 level."

The youth system and staff will be a huge emphasis for Klinsmann. He was nearly hired two different times in the past five years, most recently after last year's World Cup. But, the sticking point between Klinsmann and U.S. Soccer was the amount of control over that very youth system. This time around, Sunil Gulati and Klinsmann have seemingly put that conversation to rest.

"Between us [Klinsmann and Gulati] there has never been an issue about so-called control," Gulati said. "Jurgen's comments previously were about being able to incorporate that into a piece of paper. So, the understanding about how we were going to move forward and collaborate has been clear for many years."

With those "power" concerns put to rest, expect Klinsmann to make some changes to the U.S. youth system. Some of the changes he briefly touched on include making youth teams' style of play and culture reflect that of the senior team and to continue to build on the growing academy system currently in place. Klinsmann pointed that the biggest difference between the game in this country and any of the top 10 soccer nations is the amount of time youth players spend field.

"This is what is really missing compared to the leading soccer nations around the world, the first 10-12 nations around the world, is the amount of time kids play the game," said Klinsmann. "If you have a kid that plays in Mexico 20 hours a week, and maybe four hours of organized soccer but 16 hours of unorganized soccer just banging the ball around in the neighborhood, but if he gets up to 20 hours it doesn’t matter how he plays it, with his dad or with his buddies in the street, this will show later on with his technical abilities, with his passing, with his instinct on the field and all those things, and I think that’s certainly an area where a lot of work is ahead of us."

These changes Klinsmann hopes to make will only become palpable if he is able to stay past his current contract, which Gulati revealed runs through the 2014 World Cup. Gulati and Klinsmann certainly see eye-to-eye on a lot of strategies and outlooks, but that won't matter if Klinsmann can't get results on the field. 

The German is replacing one of the more successful U.S. coaches in it's history. While unpopular among groups of fans, Bradley took the United States to it's highest-ever finish in a FIFA tournament and won the 2007 Gold Cup and its group at the 2010 World Cup. Klinsmann has to meet or exceed the results of his last two predecessors in Bradley and Bruce Arena, otherwise, his big ideas may never come to fruition.

  • Darwin

    You have an argumentum ad ignorantiam, an argument from ignorance. You don’t care enough about the issue, or you care more about looking intelligent, so you lay down an impossible burden of proof.

    Also, this is a message board, so I’m going to assume that everybody that posts here is unqualified to speak on most issues, and doesn’t know the first thing about street soccer culture, or how to run a national team.

    but nice try.


  • Ski Fast!

    I’m all for hiring Klinsmann and think it’s the best way to move forward right now. However, I’m not getting ahead of myself with my expectations for what he will do. We still have a problem with a lack of players who can finish as well as a porous defense.


  • chris

    People go on gotsoccer.com or the ussf academy website and look at the teams roster and you will see half the players are latino. Race doesn’t determine a players skill. There are plenty of ways for players to afford to play but the problem is most of the talented kids are immigrants that are better because they are more educated about the game but want to play for another country.


  • Roy

    I have to agree with the park pick-up games. When I was a kid many decades ago there was an American-style football field at the park. Every day at a scheduled time any kid who wanted to play showed up, and there was a teenager paid by the town to monitor it. It was a hellish free for all at times. But you learned how to get attention for passes, dribble in crowds on the busy days, and fight for the ball. There was one older kid who was huge and would run you down if you had the ball. You learned to pass quickly. The best education I got.

    I’m a bit sick of hearing kids should have to play organized soccer and they rarely touch the ball because leagues are rotating in kids who’d rather play with weeds.


  • BlueWhiteLion

    “street soccer” is unquestionably important. where it thrives, then kids are constantly playing. When they are constantly playing, they are getting better.

    Drawing upon my growing up years in Germany, we’d play in driveways, tennis courts, sandlots, parking lots, school entryways, grassy knolls–with all size fields, obstacles, goals (a gate, between two posts, a ball, a crumpled up coat, etc) with all kinds of balls, from plastic to legit to tennis. All of that honed our thinking and skills in unimaginable ways.

    If you merely play a few days a week on a large field, you don’t have as great a chance to develop and hone your skills, thinking, and how you read situations.

    It IS a big part of what is missing. I am sure it exists, but we are not tapping into those kids as much, it seems.

    Simply, I don’t think our average soccer player logs as many miles on the ball as avg. players across the world.


  • Monty

    If it was all about street soccer african countries would dominate international competitions. The key to developing young players is top level coaching at all levels. France, Spain, Germany and Holland are all great examples of that.


  • Monty

    Only the senior national team level latins haven’t really been excluded but on the youth level our system leaves a lot of players falling through the cracks in many cases those are latin players.


  • RB

    “they are more educated about the game but want to play for another country.”

    You has anything in the way of, you know, data that could back up such a claim? Or are you just generalizing without support?


  • RangerSG

    Erm, actually he said PROACTIVE. And he ‘did’ mean BOTH as compliments, because he prefers an attacking style of play.


  • Seriously?

    The thing is, it needs to start with “street” – aka non-coached – soccer. You can’t take players who’ve never been coached, and put them right onto a professional stage. But the problem, to me, comes down to 2 things: kids are over-coached and youth teams place too much emphasis on winning at a young age, which also has to do with parents.

    Kids learn to play with the ball, keep it at their feet, take people on, when they don’t have coaches yelling at them to pass all the time. I just watched the WWC final at a friend of a friend’s house, and the mom there was telling her 5 year old to watch how the players pass to each other, as his coach always talks to them about. Five year olds should be doing all individual stuff, TBH, their minds aren’t even developed enough to understand the space and movement around them. Yes, passing should be mentioned, but not a focus in any way whatsoever. Being a player who can dribble around everybody can be seen as a negative thing by many parents and coaches who’ve never played – don’t be so selfish, such a show off.

    In terms of winning, if you want to win at the young ages, there’s a very simple formula, get the biggest kids who can kick it the farthest. Kids inevitably make mistakes, so the more you kick it down the end, the more likely you are to cause a mistake and score. Learning how to play with the ball takes patience, but if you have overly competitive coaches, along with parents who think winning is everything, and don’t understand the long view, they’ll think that winning at u10 will automatically translate to winning in high school, and then a college scholarship.

    Playing skillful soccer takes a lot of patience at the youth level, and an understanding that nobody cares about who won a championship at u10 or u12. The truth of the matter is, if you don’t develop certain individual skills when you’re young, you’ll never develop them. Though to finish the though from the top, if highly skilled players can’t also learn high level tactics (once they get older), they’ll never be all that successful, never mind become stars.


  • Paul Thomas

    If US Soccer is akin to the American political system, then God help us all, because the American political system is almost certainly unfixable without revolutionary overthrow of the government.

    (Before anyone starts speed-dialing the FBI, I’m not actually advocating that. It’s not clear that it would actually be better than what we’ve got right now, which is basically a steady but relatively slow decline.)

    At least US Soccer does not have the burden (or, if you prefer, excuse) of being hog-tied by a hopelessly obsolete but unchangeable governing document.


  • Monty

    But that is not over coaching that is poor coaching. Because a poor coach would only look at the short term gain and good coach would look at what is better for players in the long term.


  • Seriously?

    uh, tomato tomah-to. Over coaching is poor coaching, doesn’t that go without saying? It’s also bad coaching, dumb coaching, ignorant coaching, or whatever other synonym you like. Or was your point that the phrase over coaching can be used to refer to good coaching (aka smart coaching, proper coaching, etc), such that I shouldn’t have used it?


  • NC Jeff

    With Klinsmann, here’s what I’m hoping the USMNT accomplishes over the next 5+ years: Winning their qualifying semifinal group, winning their qualifying final group, winning their world cup group, either winning or at least getting to OT in the world cup round of 16, finishing at least 2nd in the confederations cup, and making the finals of all 3 gold cups (winning at least 1).


  • biff

    Well, the Midfield plot thickens. Klinsmann was quoted in a German sport magazine today (sportbild (dot) de) saying, “Jermaine Jones can be an important player for the USMNT.” That’s the only quote he gave about Jones, but tends to make you believe that Klinsmann at the very least will call him up a few more times and give him a chance to prove himself. In the same article, Klinsmann also says he wants to schedule a friendly with Germany. Man, that would be fun to see. (And if you go to the Web site, Hope Solo is on the front page. If you click on her, you get a bunch of photos of her. The German guys fell in love with her during WC2011…)


  • TomG

    You have no clue about traveling teams. It’s been a huge issue for years and even the USSF is publicly trying to address it. And you apparently can’t read, because you didn’t read my comment. It’s not exclusion based on race, it’s exclusion based on finances. It happens, though, that many Latin players don’t have the finances or connections to get on these traveling teams so we miss out on a lot of really good Latin talent. Right now, the system is promoting mostly suburban kids, when everyone knows that, throughout history, the best athletes have always come from immigrants and lower socioeconomic groups. These are exactly the kids we are missing out on, though. We’ve caught a few of them in recent years but, by and large, most of our pipeline consists of individuals from the middle and upper middle class socioeconomic groups (which happen to be predominantly white). This is particularly bad because the Latin and immigrant groups are the most passionate about the game. These groups are so disconnected that they don’t even come out to support the MLS, yet they come in droves when a foreign team comes into town. We must, must, must find ways to bring those groups into the fold of US soccer or else we will never field a top side.


  • Dennis

    The US will not even be in the Confederations cup, that ship already sailed. Unless you are speaking of 2017 which is sort of out of your 5 year window and would require winning the Gold Cup in 2015.


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