By MIKE NASTRI
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.