Jurgen Klinsmann welcomes scrutiny of his performance as U.S. coach
United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann welcomes the pressure he's under to defeat Mexico in October after a disappointing Gold Cup this summer.
The U.S. finished fourth after losing to Jamaica in the semifinals -- the first time the Americans had failed to reach the final in the biennial CONCACAF tournament since 2003.
At the Rose Bowl on Oct. 10, Klinsmann will lead his side against Gold Cup winner Mexico to decide which team qualifies for the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2017, and another defeat would increase calls from some fans for the U.S. to look in another direction as World Cup qualifying gets underway in November.
But Klinsmann told ESPN FC that he welcomes the scrutiny as proof that American fans are demanding more success from the national team.
"It means that it means a lot to people," Klinsmann said in an interview with Taylor Twellman, airing Tuesday (6 p.m. ET, ESPNEWS).
"I think that the way now the game is discussed in the United States is huge. You know, the game is just growing on a such fast pace on every level of it. If it's our professional league with MLS, if it's the youth section, if it's everywhere where you talk to people, suddenly you have them discuss things from their own perspective. And that is huge, you know.
"And if there's then a negative outcome of a big competition like the Gold Cup, they go at the coach and it's right, you know, absolutely.
"So on the other side it makes things even more interesting because now if you would have said, 'You want that playoff game with Mexico?' [the fans] say 'No, I don't want it. I want to qualify right away for Russia and I want to keep building towards Russia [in the 2018 World Cup].'
"No, it didn't work out that way, now embrace that game. And we're going to raise the expectations, we're going to raise the intensity, and it will rock the Rose Bowl in a month from now. And the pressure will be on the coach and the players. That is just part of the game."
Klinsmann has the highest winning percentage among long-term U.S. coaches, led the Americans through a tricky group stage at the 2014 World Cup, and even beat champions Germany in a friendly in June.
Those results didn't stop some fans and pundits from wondering if the Gold Cup loss meant U.S. Soccer should hire a new coach. Klinsmann responded to the criticism last week in an interview with the Washington Post, saying more education is needed so fans can "understand really what happened in the Gold Cup."
Klinsmann clarified that remark, telling ESPN FC that while he "totally" accepted responsibility for this summer's failure, he hoped fans would look beyond just the final score when measuring the team's success.
"I think maybe some people misunderstood that a little bit, you know," he said. "It's not that I want to find excuses or anything about not winning the Gold Cup this summer. It's about that there are a lot of things happen in details, in every single game and also in the outcome of the Gold Cup with certain decisions that were made in there.
"So a lot of people that go deeper, deeper, deeper have their view on things and some that look at the naked results, 'Well, Jamaica 2, U.S.A. 1,' have their opinion and say, 'Well, we failed because we lost against Jamaica, right.'
"I do understand absolutely both versions but I think that when you talk deeper about a topic, then that's when you say some [fans] kind of get it quicker and some takes a little bit longer."
Klinsmann added that he way happy with any debate about the future of the U.S. team.
"This is a great, great situation because it shows you that people care more and more about soccer," he said. "You know, everybody in his own way -- in his own kind of how deep he wants to go, in his own opinion, whatever background the person comes from -- now gives his statements and says, 'That's how I look at the Gold Cup,' and somebody else looks at this like that.
"So it kind of broadens our discussion, our debate about the game and it really shows you that now suddenly we have those heated discussions with different opinions. Very different opinions and that's good."
The U.S. has done well in the group stages of major tournaments but fell in the first knockout round game in both the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, and Klinsmann says the Mexico game -- a one-off, win-or-go-home affair -- is exactly the kind of experience the U.S. needs.
"It's super important and it's a great opportunity as well," Klinsmann said. Because, we talked about it, what happens in the World Cup when we get into a knockout phase? What do we need as the United States to advance in knockout games? And knockout games are basically finals. Every knockout game is a final. It's you go home or you go and move on. And this is basically a game like that.
"Now this is a final against Mexico because it decides which country will go to Russia in 2017. So it's a huge opportunity. Did we want it in the first place? No. We wanted to kind of win the Gold Cup and go directly there. But now it's a huge opportunity and that's why the players, everybody needs to understand that this is a very very different opportunity. It's a real one-off and you've got to fire them up to the extreme in order to win it."
The last time the U.S. played in the Confederations Cup in South Africa in 2009, the Bob Bradley-coached team lost to Brazil in the final, then went on to win their group at the 2010 World Cup.
Klinsmann said the opportunity to travel to Russia a year early is crucial.
"Well, it's basically the rehearsal for your World Cup," he said. "You test out everything in a country that you are not familiar with. And this is a huge advantage for the teams that go to the Confederations Cup.
"Knowing Russia, knowing some stadiums, knowing their hotels, knowing their training sites. This is a rehearsal and so having that in your pocket makes you feel just a lot more calmer going towards the World Cup a year later."