Jurgen Klinsmann: World Cup failure set United States back 'by several years'
Soccer in the United States has suffered a significant setback after the men's national team failed to qualify for the World Cup this summer, former coach Jurgen Klinsmann has said.
Klinsmann was removed as U.S. coach in November 2016 after a poor start to the final CONCACAF qualifying round, and under his successor Bruce Arena, the Americans failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986 after a loss to Trinidad and Tobago in the final qualifier last October.
And Klinsmann told German newspaper kicker that being left out of the World Cup in Russia will have implications on the growth of soccer in the country for a long time.
"It's been set back by several years," Klinsmann said. "That was a huge disappointment. The qualification really was never in doubt, but then the lads had a blackout versus Trinidad and Tobago. They only needed a point, were too sure of that and underestimated that final match."
However, Klinsmann insisted that "despite that low point, the football [in the U.S.] is still on the rise."
"Sure, there are a lot of things to catch up on: in the youth academies, in the universities, in cross-linking the pieces," Klinsmann said. "But MLS is stable after 20 years. It has role-model character. It has a backbone, mostly thanks to [league co-founder] Phil Anschutz. He kept things together when they could have fallen apart.
"By now, MLS has caught up in the infrastructure. What happened in U.S. soccer in the past 20 years, that is a bit like a fairy tale. It still needs patience, but the league's getting stronger with every year."
Klinsmann, 53, has been out of work since being fired and he said that he is slowly preparing to return to coaching.
He began his coaching career with Germany's national team, reaching the semifinals of the 2006 World Cup on home soil, and he then spent most of the 2008-09 season coaching Bayern Munich before the U.S. hired him in July 2009.
"For me, a World Cup starts with the knockout stages," Klinsmann said. "That's where I blossom. And if I don't have that perspective, I'd rather fly the helicopter."
Klinsmann also praised Germany coach Joachim Low, his former assistant, and said that he could coach any club team if he so wanted.
Low, who replaced Klinsmann as the national team coach in 2006, is expected to be tempted by a return to club management after the World Cup. Sources told ESPN FC in March that Low would be the leading candidate at Arsenal should Arsene Wenger's tenure end this summer.
"We talk about the top six clubs in the world here," Klinsmann said. "If one of those clubs ask him at the right time, I could imagine he'd be tempted. I was always tempted by Bayern back then, and if Real Madrid or Barcelona came knocking, he'd be tempted too, I'd assume."
Stephan Uersfeld is the Germany correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @uersfeld.