Now that U.S. Soccer’s perennial coach-in-waiting finally has the job, Juergen Klinsmann will be expected to kick start a stagnant men’s national team.
U.S. Soccer moved quickly to name a replacement for fired coach Bob Bradley, announcing Klinsmann’s hiring Friday.
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The former standout player and coach for the German national team will be a familiar name to American fans, given that the U.S. almost hired him twice – first after the 2006 World Cup and again last year before giving Bradley what turned out to be a short-lived contract extension.
With the team’s progress seemingly stalled, it’s time to see what Klinsmann can do.
“I am proud and honoured to be named the head coach of the U.S. men’s national team,” Klinsmann said. “I would like to thank the U.S. Soccer Federation for the opportunity, and I’m excited about the challenge ahead. I am looking forward to bringing the team together for our upcoming match against Mexico and starting on the road toward qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.”
Klinsmann will be formally introduced Monday at a press conference in New York. His debut as coach will come Aug. 10, when the U.S. team faces Mexico in an exhibition match in Philadelphia.
Qualifying for the next 2014 World Cup in Brazil begins next year.
“We are excited to have Juergen as the head coach of our Men’s National Team,” U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said. “He is a highly accomplished player and coach with the experience and knowledge to advance the program. Juergen has had success in many different areas of the game, and we look forward to the leadership he will provide on and off the field.”
Klinsmann served as an adviser to Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC in its search for a new management team prior to this season.
Former U.S. defender Alexi Lalas, who worked alongside Klinsmann for ESPN at last year’s World Cup, expects him to inject energy into the program but notes that he’s not a miracle worker.
“It’s not as if all of sudden because Juergen Klinsmann is coach that we’re going to have an American Lionel Messi drop into our laps,” Lalas said. “The players are what they are. It’s up to him to make sure he has the correct mix of players and to motivate them, to coach them up. For the experienced veterans that are part of the national team setup, this will be a source of motivation – and maybe a kick in the pants.”
Although the U.S. federation has discussed the job with Klinsmann in the past, the coach’s desire for wide-ranging authority over the entire U.S. program has been considered a point of contention preventing a previous deal.
“When you look at where we are and where we should be, Juergen is coming in with a full-blown plan,” said former U.S. forward Eric Wynalda, now a commentator for Fox Soccer. “There’s a lot of things he’s been very adamant about, things he feels need to change. The reluctance from U.S. Soccer’s point of view to relinquish power was the only piece of red tape in his way.”
Klinsmann will have a chance to make his mark in the federation’s youth teams, given current coaching vacancies at the U.S. Under-20 and Under-23 teams.
Germany coach Joachim Loew, who was Klinsmann’s assistant before becoming his successor, wished him well – and expects big changes.
“I am happy for Juergen, that he has found a new challenge and I wish him a lot of success,” Loew said. “The way we know Juergen, he’ll go into the job with power and shake up a lot of things.”
Klinsmann is the first non-American to coach the national team since Bora Milutinovic (1991-95), who was succeeded by Steve Sampson (1995-98), Bruce Arena (1998-06) and Bradley.
“I believe he understands the American system as well as anybody, having observed youth development and the professional game in the United States,” Sampson said.
Given Klinsmann’s long-established U.S. roots, Wynalda didn’t expect a cultural clash.
“His greatest weapon is the fact that he understands the American people more than any other foreign coach possibly could,” Wynalda said. “If you’re going to make the move, he’s the perfect choice.”
Klinsmann, who turns 47 on Saturday, has a considerable World Cup pedigree.
As a player, Klinsmann scored 11 goals in three World Cups, 1990, 1994 and 1998. That ties him for sixth on the all-time scoring list, just behind Pele.
“He is an experienced coach and a great former player,” Pele said of Klinsmann on Friday in Brazil. “Without a doubt he can be a very good coach because of his international experience.”
Klinsmann was a key cog for West Germany’s 1990 World Cup-winning team and European championship-winning German team in 1996. He retired in 1998 and moved to the U.S. shortly afterward.
Klinsmann and his wife, Debbie, reside in California with their two children, Jonathan and Laila.
Klinsmann took over as coach of the German national team in July 2004, after the team had a poor showing in the 2004 European championships. Klinsmann led the German national team to a third-place finish in the 2006 World Cup, which was hosted by Germany. In 34 matches, Klinsmann’s record was 20-8-6.
“Certainly there isn’t any player currently on the national team or any players that could be brought in that can say ‘Juergen hasn’t done it,’” Sampson said. “That’s the overriding advantage that Juergen has.”
He went on to coach German club Bayern Munich but lasted less than a full season after falling out of favour with management and has worked as a consultant since then.
“I think it’s good for US Soccer,” Seattle Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid said. “I know that Juergen is a guy that they’ve been talking to off and on over the number of years right after Bruce Arena left and Juergen left Germany. I knew it was a possibility then. Obviously in the interim time, they’ve been able to work out whatever issues or differences there were.”
U.S. Soccer fired Bradley in a surprise move Thursday. Last year, U.S. Soccer gave Bradley a contract extension through 2014.
Bradley led the U.S. team to considerable success and several big moments, including an appearance in the round of 16 at last year’s World Cup in South Africa and a victory over Spain in the 2009 Confederations Cup. But the U.S. team seemed to take a step backward this summer, and a stinging 4-2 loss to Mexico in the Gold Cup final last month – the U.S. blew a 2-0 lead – appears to have convinced U.S. Soccer officials it was time to make a change.
“I’m disappointed at the loss of Bob because I felt the national team was in transition and he needed more time to complete the job,” Sampson said.
AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum contributed to this report.