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Klinsmann improved after 'Too American' critique

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Jonathan Klinsmann returned to roots by opting to join Hertha Berlin

BERLIN -- U.S. youth international goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann knew he wanted to return to his German roots when he joined Hertha Berlin last summer.

Klinsmann, the son of former U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, went on trial at several European clubs after playing in college at California and with the U.S. at the Under-20 World Cup, before signing for Bundesliga side Hertha last July.

He has since made nine appearances for the club's under-23 team in the fourth division and one for the senior team, and he said he chose to start his pro career in Germany to expand his horizons.

"I kept my options open, but the biggest thing for me was to learn something," Klinsmann said at Hertha's training grounds near the Olympiastadion on Tuesday. "I didn't want to go to England or America because I knew English already.

"For me, German was unfinished and I wanted to be able to integrate myself in Germany. I was born here. I was born in Munich. I wanted to be able to come here and speak freely. I wanted to learn German. That was definitely one of my top priorities."

Jonathan Klinsmann has made one first-team appearance since signing for Hertha Berlin in July.

Klinsmann, 20, said he had to adjust to the training level at the Bundesliga club after his time at the University of California.

"[The training] is a lot different," Klinsmann said. "I came from college, and from college to pro -- it's a lot different. Luckily, I had the bridge of the youth national team.

"I had the professional environment around me for a little bit. I could bridge the gap. I trained with a couple of other pro teams before and that was pretty much when I knew that I wanted to become a pro.

"I kept up with the level, and I felt I could play with these guys, and I was ready to make the step. And after the [U20] World Cup, I told my family that I wanted to go pro."

Klinsmann debuted for the senior team in the 1-1 Europa League draw with Ostersunds on Dec. 7. That day, he saved a penalty as he announced himself to a bigger audience.

"Ostersunds was a special game. I could finally show myself to not only my team but everyone," Klinsmann said. "Overall, I gave myself a good grade. That's a good start, I said, and that I can do better. But the amount of confidence I got from it was unbelievable."

That match has remained Klinsmann's only game between the Hertha first-team posts, although he has made the matchday squad on numerous occasions.

Klinsmann was convinced he wanted to join Hertha after the Under-20 World Cup in May.

Former Bayern Munich goalkeeper Thomas Kraft, 29, and Norway international Rune Jarstein, 33, are ahead of him. While Klinsmann is happy to learn from them, he is hoping to eventually replace him.

"My long-term [goal] is to be No. 1 here at Hertha," Klinsmann said. "To represent Berlin in that way would be unbelievable. For my short-term goals, we have two very good goalkeepers here, Rune Jarstein and Thomas Kraft. They have about 10 years of experience on me. Just to learn from them."

The name Klinsmann not only resounds in the United States following his father's time coaching the national team but also in Germany as the Klinsmann legacy includes winning the 1990 World Cup and Euro 1996.

Jurgen Klinsmann also worked to re-establish Germany as one of the world's top teams at the 2006 World Cup.

When asked about living up to that reputation in his home country, Jonathan Klinsmann said he originally had reservations.

"I was kind of nervous about it," he said. "I don't feel it that much right now. I feel that I am my own person, especially after the Ostersunds match when people saw that I can play the game.

"I am good with that and it's gonna be there for the rest of my life -- which is not a bad thing. You have the name, but you also have him who can help you through it. My dad's been through it. I think I am fine with that now."

Stephan Uersfeld is the Germany correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @uersfeld.

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