Jurgen Klinsmann talks World Cup, MLS, dual nationals and Donovan
PRAGUE -- It may seem like the manager of a national team has lots of free time on his hands. The gap between international games is often measured in weeks and occasionally months. But U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann is not one to waste a single second. The next four years will be packed with international tournaments, two Gold Cups, an Olympic Games, a Copa America, possibly a Confederations Cup and, of course, World Cup qualifying.
As such, Klinsmann always has his eye out for talent, and Wednesday's friendly against the Czech Republic is no exception, as his roster has a heavy emphasis on youth. Granted, the vagaries of the MLS calendar have something to do with this, but Klinsmann is eager to see how his young charges fare, all while keeping an eye out for more dual nationals who can augment his roster the same way Fabian Johnson, John Brooks and Julian Green did during the previous cycle.
With that in mind, Klinsmann sat down with reporters ahead of Wednesday's match and discussed all manner of topics, including a certain farewell match for the national team's most decorated player.
The following is excerpted from that Q&A.
Landon Donovan will be at the farewell game on Oct. 10 against Ecuador. Will that be an awkward moment for you?
Jurgen Klinsmann: It's not awkward at all for me. As a player, he obviously deserves every piece of recognition for an amazing career with that farewell game, and has tremendously done so much for the national team program, so it's a real pleasure to give him that farewell match and give him that occasion and give him that recognition. That he was or is upset about that decision, about not going to the World Cup, is for me a good reaction. That means he cares. He built his case leading up to the World Cup, and I decided that the 23 or the players that were in his position, whether it's forward or midfield, are just ahead of him, for me in my evaluation as a coach. It was a simple decision. Obviously it was a big deal, I knew that too, but at the end of the day, I needed to take those players that I believe would make a difference.
That he's not happy about that, that he makes statements that he's not content, he sees it different, that's legitimate, that's totally fine with me. We give him a blast in that moment. Hopefully the whole stadium will give him a standing ovation, we give him the best farewell that we can do and make it a huge event that he undoubtedly deserves.
Now that you've had some distance from the World Cup, what are some of the positives and negatives you've taken away?
Klinsmann: I think you definitely have the sense that you can compete with those teams, that you still need to improve in order to go further in many different ways. That [the players] now have an understanding -- maybe that was there before that -- that you can go further than you might think you can. I think overall, it was nice to get out of the group of death, but it was not nice to end in the round of 16, even if it is a highly talented Belgium team that we all know. But you leave [saying], "Yeah, it was a good performance, it was thrilling games, but s---, you should have gone even further."
A few more pieces should have fallen into place individually, and overall the confidence level to say, "Why not go at Belgium? Why not put them under pressure?" It's because it's Belgium and the players they have on the field. Let's pressure them, let's take it to them. Funny enough, we can do that actually, but we always do it when we are a goal down.
- Neil Atkinson, host of the radio show The Anfield Wrap”
There is a mental and psychological transition we have to go through to get that confidence and attitude to say, "No, we start that way from the first minute on, and not when we are a goal down." Now we suddenly take the game to the opponent, now we suddenly put them under pressure, now we suddenly raise the bar in terms of aggressiveness. We want to become this proactive team. We want to go eye-to-eye. We want to take it their opponent, no matter what their big name is.
The way the U.S. team reacts when they go down a goal. To what extent is it mental as you say, and to what extent is the U.S. missing a player in the midfield that can actually hold the ball a little bit better and help the team move forward?
Klinsmann: I think we have the players, because we do it when we are a goal down.
But isn't that partly the other team sitting back because they have the lead and cede the initiative?
Klinsmann: I don't think so, not necessarily. I think it's more the mental approach to say, "Are we shifting this now 30 yards higher up the field and keeping it in their half, moving the ball around?" I don't think a team like Germany goes up 1-0 and they suddenly drop and wait for you. They're not doing that either. They keep going for the second one.
I think in some games it happens like that, yes. But I think, quality-wise, if you look at our midfield, Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones, they know how to keep the ball. They know how to make it flow. It's just this mindset still that we like to see ourselves, like in American pictures, as the outsider and we have to first get hurt and then we react.
How do you evolve the mindset?
Klinsmann: We constantly talk and discuss how we can do that. In one-on-one talks with the players, or if it's in general talks with the players, it's just a shift in what you are doing. Over time, hopefully it gets more and more into their heads and they take it that way. It's not going to happen overnight, we always said that. I think we did some big strides the last couple of years with certain results, and games we played. If you get out of that [group of death], you can actually make it far. That was my approach, and that's what I told the players. Then it's boom, it's just the next game. Yeah, it went to extra time, but Belgium was the better team. They controlled most of the game. We came back, but again this coming back and giving them a fight in extra time, the whole thrill of it. Yeah, you gave them the thrill of it, but at the end of the day, it's getting into the quarterfinal, the semifinal. That's what really matters when you get out of a group like that.
It's a very youthful roster for these friendlies. What gave you the confidence, particularly with Emerson Hyndman and Rubio Rubin, that they were ready for the call-up?
Klinsmann: What we did really over the last two or three years, we tried really to connect the youth national teams, the different age groups, to the senior team. The [U20 and U18] coaches travel with me to senior national team games. Tab [Ramos] and Javier [Perez] were with me in Brazil. Javier is here. Also by establishing a scouting network here in Europe. Andi Herzog is in Vienna and Matias Hamman is in Germany. So this has kind of gotten more and more connected, and the way we follow the kids at whatever age they are was a lot more intensified. So when we feel that there's a young player who is ready to experience the next higher level, then we bring the kid in. Is it too much for Rubin? Is it too much for Emerson? No, because I talk to their coaches too.
What do you think of Julian Green's move to Hamburg?
Klinsmann: Julian's move was a very smart move. I was in touch with him about this whole thing. I said, "If the opportunity is there, you gotta do it." I had that thought already a couple of months ago, because you see the roster at Munich. You see who is playing there in front of him. You've got to be realistic. He's 19 years old. He has [Arjen] Robben and [Franck] Ribery in front of him, and [Xherdan] Shaqiri and some others. And they are still loading up because it's a Champions League team. So this [move] is ideal. Finding a club like Hamburg in that moment is a positive too because we have a great relationship with the coach, the technical director I've known for a long time. He's moved from Hoffenheim to Hamburg now. And the general manager is an old teammate of mine, so the network is already there. This is great.
Who's going to be the Olympic team coach?
Klinsmann: We don't know yet. We're real relaxed about that. I just said a couple of months ago to [U.S. Soccer president] Sunil Gulati, "We have to start that process. Right now, let's just improvise with Tab, who loves it, and Andi Herzog too." It could be either of these two, or we take another guy on board. The Olympics and the Copa America clash in a certain way, so we'll make that call when it's time to do that. It's definitely not going to happen before Tab is done with the U-20 World Cup [in 2015].
I want MLS to grow, and I will help in every way possible. But you have to always be honest in that process. You want your players competing with the best players out there possible.
- Jurgen Klinsmann
There has been something of a reverse migration from Europe back to MLS. Is that something that concerns you?
Klinsmann: I always want the players to go for the next level, wherever that is. I'm not changing my mind there. For Michael Bradley, it was a huge move back. Football-wise, it was a move from a Champions League team to an MLS team. For Clint Dempsey, I said the same thing. I want a DeAndreYedlin to go from MLS to the level that expects him there. I want MLS to grow, and I will help in every way possible. But you have to always be honest in that process. You want your players competing with the best players out there possible. We did traditionally -- with Bruce [Arena] and Bob [Bradley] starting -- the January camp just for these players to build them to a high level. To give them a better start to the season, to help, help, help. We keep doing all that stuff. But at the same time, you have to be honest, and I think people who look at it from an international perspective can say, "How good is the Premier League, the Bundesliga, Serie A, the league in Holland? And then how good is MLS?"
It's not meant disrespectfully. It's meant just to be honest and realistic. For Jozy [Altidore], it was a huge step for Sunderland, even if it didn't turn out right now the way he wanted. But it was the right step because he went from a far inferior Dutch league, where he scored 25 goals or whatever, to a Premier League, where he gets hit every second. So he challenged himself and now he fights his way through and he's not giving up, and this is what I want to see. We want them, with their qualities, competing at the highest level possible for them. If this is MLS and they are doing well and they come here, that's cool, that's great. But I think if Omar Gonzalez would have gotten an offer from Europe after the World Cup, I think he would have considered it.
So are you disappointed to see Matt Besler and Graham Zusi stay in Kansas City?
Klinsmann: No, because it's their market. It's where they get evaluated. If Matt Besler gets a big offer from Europe, he probably would have gone, Graham the same. A year and a half ago, he trained with West Ham and then he went back home. It's OK.
How does your goalkeeping situation change with Tim Howard deciding to step away and with Brad Guzan and Nick Rimando here moving forward?
Klinsmann: It doesn't really change, because once the cycle ends another one starts, and every position is re-evaluated. With his decision, I found it great from him to go straightforward and call me and say, "This is my situation." The next ones are Brad Guzan and Nick Rimando. The goal-keeping situation is one where you don't take age too much into consideration because look at Gigi Buffon and Dino Zoff before, all these guys, they can pretty much play until they're 40. Then you pass that message on. Tim is taking this year off, gets re-evaluated in a year to see where he's at. Behind Nick Rimando there are the Bill Hamids and Sean Johnsons and Cody Croppers in line already, who we brought along also over the last three years. But that's why I've said right away, "Nick, I want you to come here. You're going to play a half. Brad will still play a half, and the race is still open." I think Nick Rimando has been outstanding throughout this entire career, and has upsides where maybe Brad Guzan has upsides in a different area.
Jordan Morris has a big decision to make as a teenager. The college season is three months, but here he is getting a national team call-up. Going pro or not, have you had discussions about what the opportunities are?
Klinsmann: Yeah. We started that process two years ago. [Seattle Sounders manager] Sigi Schmid said, "We have this special kid coming through the academy, but his dad is a doctor and he wants to go to college." So we watched him obviously. And when we saw him at the U23 camp with Tab in early April, so I saw him. Then during World Cup preparation at Stanford we played against him and he scored against us, so we could evaluate the talent. So the next step is to see where his head is. I said, "I'm not scared to give him an expressway if it's all doable." And also mentally, what goes on? I had a long talk with Jordan and his dad, and Jeremy Gunn, his coach, before making this call. And I kept the Sounders in the loop, just saying, "If we do something exceptional, we're doing the right thing and not overshooting anything here." I gave him time to think about it. I told him, "If not now, we can do it during January camp. But we feel like you can do that already." He's a forward, very simple, he reads the game very well ahead, he sees the space in front of him and can take people on one-against-one, and at the same time he knows his path is a different one.
We see the talent. Can this kid go 60-70 minutes at international level? No. But maybe he comes on and goes 30 minutes, because that's what he has in his legs, based on his background, based on where he's playing right now. But going forward, this kid can only get more and more and more, better and better. So after having those conversations, I said, "You know what? This is fine." If he comes on the field or not [on Wednesday], he got the introduction to our world, how we do things. He understands it better. He has the choice now to say, "OK, am I jumping on the Sounders track in January, or am I considering another year, or am I considering maybe even going to Europe?" He has those pieces on the table that he can discuss with his family and his dad and with his coaches to hopefully make the right decision for him. What we can do now is show him those options. There's no stress to it. There's no preference to it. It's this is how this world could work out for you, hopefully.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.