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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.


  1. I hear this multiple direction argument a lot, but I don’t think it really matters. Due to the size of our country, we actually only need a relatively small percentage of the population to care about the game.

    To put this into perspective, the US has a population of 307 million while the Netherlands has a population of 16.5 million or about 5.4% of the US’s population.

    I think the issue is really about finding a system that works for our country, which I believe we are on our way to doing if for no other reason than the fact that there is a growing passionate group of people who care. I don’t know if Klinsmann is der Mann (he actually sounds like he should have replaced Gulati), but I think he sees an opportunity and really has nothing to lose by trying some radical things. Also, with more money than ever flowing into their coffers, the US federation is in a good position to try to expand their operations.

  2. It certainly helps to have technically skilled, comfortable players on your national team. In basketball, almost all NBA guards started playing when they were kids, and spent thousands upon thousands of hours practicing by themselves and playing pick up games.

    The more time you spend playing something, the easier it becomes (Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours to master something theory). A large part of that comes away from the coaches. Messi has only read 2 books in his life for a reason. Ever since he could walk, he probably had a soccer ball at his feet.

  3. I love his ideas and I think in time they could pay heavy dividends.

    Re the street soccer debate I think people are taking this far too seriously. He is referring to ANY kind of informal play; he even said as much in his remarks. A boy passing the ball back and forth with his dad is ‘street soccer’ in the Klinsmann sense. A boy shooting balls into small targets in the park is ‘street soccer’ in that sense.
    He is basically saying that too many kids here go to their league games and then just kinda ignore the game until the next league game which is bad.

  4. Exciting for sure….

    A healthy Stu Holden should be, and would have been in that position of ACM, so we may not see MB in that position going forward anyway.

    Now, I bet we see JJ playing where MB should have been playing all along, at DCM…in my mind JJ is better than MB at DCM at the present time, especially with MB not playing regularly, and maybe even with MB playing at the club level consistently.

  5. “that JK managed to get the USSF to move into a different direction”

    A more reasonable interpretation would be that the USSF has had a bad year. Bad Gold Cup, the women choking, and worst of all lost World Cup bid.

    Look, the USSF needed to make a positive splash in the worst way and they have always wanted JK anyway so this move, now, makes sense for them on so many levels.

  6. I agree MB is hard-working and a decent soccer player who might prove in the next three years that he indeed deserves a regular spot on the USNMT, either as a starter or a substitute. But that has nothing to do with the point I was trying to make above, and that is 1) that some of Bob Bradley’s screwy roster decisions stemmed from his son’s preeminent status in the team constellation, which I don’t think was justified, and 2) that MB, despite being a hard-worker and a decent soccer player, was not at all suited for the role his dad wanted him to play and that this was a major burden that held back the team.

    Of course, I could be totally wrong and thanks to BB’s firing, we are going to find out in coming months with the team led by Klinsmann. It could be that Klinsmann will keep MB in the same role as his dad. But Klinsmann might see things differently and it will be interesting to watch–will the team improve with MB playing a different role (or possibly not even on the team at all). Or will the team regress. I, for one, can’t wait to see what happens. The Times They Are A Changin’–Exciting times ahead for USMNT fans.

  7. “Compare the Spanish national team to the US national team – simply in terms of how many times they play together and train together as a team in one year. It’s ludicrous”

    One thing about Spain.

    When most of your team belong to one club and the many of the rest belong to another club then this whole “playing and training together” thing takes on another dimension entirely.

    The great German teams of the 70’s were based on a Bayern/ Borussia MGladbach( yes MB’s Gladbach) spine and the great Dutch teams of the same era were based on a Ajax/Feyenoord spine.

    In all these cases not only were these players playing together but they were playing for fantastic club teams.

    Obviously this won’t be so easy for the USMNT, who have yet to get even one player as a regular on a Champion’s league contender.

  8. one issue, at least in the DC suburbs of VA is that there are really not many places to play pick-up anymore. when I was a kid (I’m 40 now), we would get a bunch of kids together, go down to one of the local fields, schools, or sandlots, and just play for hours. Kids can’t really do that much anymore. you have to have field permits, you get chased off by the hundreds of youth teams/ adult leagues that have claim to the fields. its much harder. I don’t see any kids playing true “street” soccer anymore either. we did that as kids as well. I would love to see kids just playing to play, but sadly you don’t see that much around here anymore (northern VA).

  9. The “fire JK” website (if there isn’t one already) starts August 11th, if we don’t wax Mexico.

    People like strider view every loss as the end of the world,every tie as an opportunity to bitch and every win as an opportunity to say ” why didn’t you play Zach Loyd at left back?”.

    God help JK if he calls in Bornstein, Clark or Sacha, even if they don’t play.

  10. “I love it when people mix politics with sports, and by love I mean hate…”


    Split-personality much? You just opined above that the USMNT should pay attention to the politics of citizenship and accidents of geography in players’ backgrounds more than their soccer skills and athletic ability.

  11. Sorry, but that stuff you’re saying about language acquisition is really not accurate. Simply put, monolingualism is readily curable, including for full-blown adults.

    Not that it has an awful lot to do with soccer, but…

  12. I completely believe that MB earned his playing time. He is the hardest working, most consistent, and better than most give him credit for being.

    Does he have limitations, yes, but I also believe that his poor distribution can also be attributed to the lack of movement from the players in front of him (ie. Jozy, Duece, Lando, and forward #2)

  13. The U.S. doesn’t have a national language, jerkwad. Look it up, and demographically we’re growing more hispanic, so yeah, it would be valuable to know Spanish

  14. But it does seem as if BB, either consciously or subconsciously, excluded players from the roster that might show up his son. And some of those players, not all, just happened to be Latino. In my mind, Michael Bradley’s guaranteed 90 minutes every game was like putting the USMNT in a strait jacket. The whole team revolved around him, including his dad’s roster decisions. Totally stifled the team. Can’t wait to see the effects with the strait jacket removed. I think a lot of well-intentioned BB-MB fanatics are going to be in for a big surprise at how much better the USMNT can play when managed by a coach who is not going to try to jam a square peg (MB) into the key round midfielder’s role. Will be interesting to see whether Klinsi for the Mexico friendly calls up MB, who is not even suiting up now for Gladbach, and, actually, whose only steady playing time since December has been for his dad.

  15. What single entity? Most of the US Dev. Academies are seperate youth/adult clubs that have existed for years. They all have their own philosophy and approaches. The MLS academies are also US Dev Academies and they totally reap the benefit of their homegrown players via MLS’ homegrown rules.

  16. And this does happen in the USA. I’ve played street soccer my whole life until my late 30s so it is out there. There needs to be more of it but it exists in this country. I use to play pickup games in parks all over the country with all different kinds of races and languages and it was incredible! We couldn’t speak with each other but we all knew how the play the game and communicated that way. A very beautiful thing! I am sorry for you if many of you have not had this experience. I hope my 2 boys get to experience it.

  17. This whole thread ignores one basic fact.

    The best players are developed by private entities for the benefit of the best clubs. You don’t see the FA’s of Holland or Spain, the last two World Cup finalists, worrying a great deal about developing young players because there are lots of private clubs doing that for them.

    All the best players in the world gravitate towards Europe because that is where all the best clubs are.

    And those clubs all have a variety of ways to find and develop players, be it academies, feeder clubs, good connections with smaller clubs in lower divisions,a scouting network in various place around the world, etc.

    US players have rarely (in a comparative sense)been part of this network for any number of reasons, such as,geography, lack of scouting networks or the difficulty of individual work restrictions in various countries.

    MLS has only recently put a lot of work into academies and the fruits of their labors will take some time to develop.

    When there are a lot more US kids of whatever ethnic stripe either being developed in foreign systems or being develped by an improved “local” academy system tied to MLS, then you will see a more consistent stream of talent for USMNT.

  18. I disagree with your remarks whole heartedly about the great latin players being held off the white kids teams. Its a stupid and racist comment.

    Clubs are voluntary. You don’t have to join one. The Clubs advertise themselves by putting forth the best squads they can and winning or trying to win large regional tournaments. You cannot win a tournament with a kid simply because his parents are wealthy.

    What does happens is fund-raising. Our kids spend time doing fund-raising for travel. Parents sell ads to our club’s tournament to help cut down the costs of travel for other tourneys.

    What else happens is some clubs want to short-cut the process of developing kids to build a tournament ready team and instead recruit players (sometimes the whole team and the coach) from other clubs. Those players play for free or next to free and the rest of the club parents subsidize the cost of those players. IMO, some of those second tier youth players that develop physically a little later, (and ultimatly could be better than the players beating them out at the youth level)lose out on the better coaching and competition along the way.

  19. The creators of this site i’ve long seen hace an insane infatuation with BB, I don’t understand 4 years was enough for him, that’s what REAL soccer programs do with their managers unless the manager won a WC or something with Bob we won one GC, loss two GC and a confed cup and have had a very stale style of play under him.

  20. DCUPedro, while we are in agreement with the overall assesment of the Bradley years, that he did pretty well, I have to say he needed to go, and Klinsmann detailed many of the reasons why it was necessary. The naivite doesn’t come from the people saying it cannot get worse, but the people who would continue to support Bradley just because he did nice things. I think this is a critical time for US to engage some with a vision like Jurgen, someone to oversee and implement a program that will help US soccer take a significant forward step, even at the risk of losing some friendlies. No one in the world soccer community gives a crap if we tie Argentina in a friendly, especially when Howard makes a bunch of saves to keep us in the game. Again, credit to Bradley, I think he is obviously underrated by a lot of US fans, but his big wins tended to rely on a couple of nice counterattacks and tenacious, organized defending, with our fitness playing a big role. The US could probably sustain that style for many year and do exactly what the teams has been doing, qualifying for World Cups and hoping to pass the group. I would like, someday, hopefully sooner rather than later, to see a US team come out and play an attractive style of attacking soccer, emphasizing possession, movement, and skill. Before you laugh or speak derisively, go back 20 years imagine telling someone involved with soccer that the US would routinely be qualifying for World Cups, or that fans would be disappointed with not advancing from the group stage, or that sleepwalking to a Gold Cup final would raise the ire of US fans. Europeans will always say how long it will take the US, that it can’t be done, and other tired bromides, but those are just cultural tics inherited from previous eras with no bearing on reality. I’m not here to say that Jurgen will succeed without question, but I do think its good that the US coach will have a vision for the future of US soccer beyond just another World Cup qualification, important as that is.

  21. American kids, at least prior to the advent of Halo, play basketball in their driveways or streets all the time. Raid the public courts in NYC an you can put together a team that (provided they can follow the more technical rules) could put the hurt on most countries’ national teams.

    The same thing just needs to happen more with soccer.

  22. You don’t watch many Galaxy games, do you? Because if you did, you would of noticed a certain Mexican-born centerback playing for them that goes about 6ft. 5in. Just sayin’.

  23. There are some kids from a higher socie-economic background that can, in fact, play very good soccer.

    I’m not singling your comments out, there have been several on here that have posted similiar remarks to yours.

    Kids from the yuppy pay to play league here in Las Vegas frequently play the kids in the Mexican leagues. From my observations, on the lower end of play it is in fact lopsided as you would expect in favor of the “Mexican” teams. The Mexican sides are better coached, they play a much more fluid team game at an earlier age.

    At the top end it isn’t lopsided at all. There are very good games of high quality soccer on both sides of the pitch. Our yuppy team has plenty of latin players and….gasp….some white kids too!

  24. im willing to bet money was a sticking issue as well. ussf isnt swimming in cash like fmf, or other countries where soccer draws big cash

  25. That is a tall order unless we are going to reeducate coaches and change the licensing requirements. To me that seems like a virtual logistical impossibility.

  26. None of this “we need to insert more of your favorite ethnic group into the USMNT”, it is just silly. What is required is for the national team coaches to get a look at the best players and decide which they want. Right now and more so in the past, some players are never seen by anyone with ability to recognize their talent and reward it with an appropriate opportunity to play at a higher level.

    As an example: Most college coaches (but this true of MLS youth coaches and national level coaches as well) are limited in how many players they can actually watch play and in order to maximize their chances to see a lot of very good players, those coaches haunt ODP events and some of the better national youth tournaments. (College coaches cannot hold open tryouts, but MLS teams can and do.) The problem is not so much that ODP coaches cannot identify stellar players, but that participation is pricey if you make the team and then you MUST have a ride to the 2 or 3 ODP events per week (often over 2 hours each way) which is the hidden cost of “free” and prevents after school jobs needed for a little extra cash. That excludes players who know they can’t participate even if they are selected. There is a matter of pride that prevents kids (and parents) from accepting the handout of free fees when it is well-known that the other parents are the ones footing the bill on the “select” travel teams.

    It is only when professional teams actually provide ALL the things players need to flourish that the “hidden” talent will come to light. No reorganization or all-knowing coaching network will work without paying attention to the details of making it possible for all players at a local level to move up to an appropriate level. Meanwhile kids playing on adult teams because they are that good will not be seen by any national team coach unless by happy circumstance (like Robbie Rogers playing with Klinsmann).

  27. I agree that the USMNT is very under-represented in the latino players. And I understand what you are writing is your opinion.

    Did you play there when Payton and Kidd played or was it just where they used to play? Your aren’t saying this so I don’t want to speak on your behalf, but it seems you implying that Mexican-Americans are better athletes. This hasn’t really panned out to be true when you look at competitions from around the world, including soccer. Mexico has been outstanding at the youth level, especially in the last 10 years or so. But that hasn’t turned into NT level success (ever really) at the World Cup. Mexico isn’t dominate in other sports either. I don’t believe they are being touted for their athleticism, they are being touted for the creativity they bring to the game. Something the US team is lacking. I want to see more of Torres and more latino players. I also want to see Diskerud. He isn’t a giant athlete, but he certainly is poised with the ball. We need more of these kind of creative players and less brute force.

  28. I like your points. A couple to add about the importance of a national style of play:

    * It’s critical to have your entire infrastructure devoted to the same principles and practices. If you don’t establish a consistent style, you get all sorts of coaches teaching all sorts of different things. We need coaches not just on the development teams but also on high-level club teams to understand what sort of player (in what sort of system) we’re trying to cultivate.

    * The notion of some sort of style that’s congruent with a nation’s character is probably over-rated, but at the same time, if you want to attract good athletes and fans to the game, you need to offer them a chance to play a game that appeals to them. A flowing, improvisational, athletic style would appeal to Americans raised not just on soccer but on basketball. A physical style might appeal to football types. The particular style you play is important, but maybe not as important as being able to say to players and coaches at all levels, Here’s what we stand for, here’s what we have to offer, and here’s what you need to do to succeed as an American player.

  29. It all comes down to, “I think” and guessing, doesn’t it. This lack of transparency is part of the problem. In other sports, there is accountability. People from all levels of the organization give interviews and all the internal information is eventually leaked out to the public. In typical FIFA style, the American fan is told to mind your own business and sent packing. Organizations with zero transparency rarely have the best interest of the sport at heart. There is no clear rationale given for any decisions. It all comes across as highly arrogant. Fans need to begin demanding accountability from USSF as fiercely as they did from Bradley or this country will go nowhere in the beautiful game.


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