Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By DAN KARELL
In a rather unprecedented move on Friday, U.S. Soccer announced that they had signed U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann to a contract extension through the 2018 World Cup in Russia, as well as adding the role of technical director to his job title.
Much has been made of the turnaround in the USMNT’s fortunes in 2013, but until now, the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) waited until after a World Cup tournament to decide on whether they’d move in a new direction or give the incumbent coach an extension.
While the move was controversial, it provides Klinsmann a chance to continue his work in revamping the youth setup and overall soccer philosophy coming from U.S. Soccer all the way down to the youth clubs where future USMNT and USWNT stars are groomed.
“I’m extremely pleased, proud, happy to have the opportunity to continue our path toward Russia 2018,” Klinsmann said during a media teleconference. “The fact that I’m allowed to take on the technical director role as well and have an influence and hopefully a good hand in guiding several other areas throughout the U.S. Soccer landscape in the next couple of years – connecting all the youth teams, connecting the academy programs, connecting to coaches education and other areas – (is) something very exciting to look forward to. I’m very pleased and looking forward to long-term development here.”
USSF president Sunil Gulati admitted in the teleconference that he’s been very impressed with what Klinsmann has done in World Cup qualifying and the way the U.S. squad won the Gold Cup in 2013, and was looking for a long-term commitment from both sides. In addition, the signing of a contract now, six months before the World Cup, eliminates any chances for Klinsmann to spurn an offer from the USSF for another opportunity, whether at the club or international level.
“There are also pragmatic market considerations,” Gulati said for announcing the deal on Friday. “After the World Cup, lots of things could happen. Jurgen may have other interests, we may have other interests. This is a way of making a long-term commitment to each other, one that we’re pleased with. Traditionally we’ve waited until after the World Cup. We decided not to do that here.
“I think Jurgen is a unique coach with unique opportunities so that’s certainly part of what we wanted to do, but we like what’s been happening with the program over the last couple of years.”
The addition of the technical director role to Klinsmann’s title doesn’t change much, as the 49-year-old head coach has spent plenty of time during his two-plus years on the job working with the U.S. youth national team coaching staffs and integrating them with the USMNT staff at a number of opportunities. This week, Klinsmann was in Bradenton and at Lakewood Ranch to speak with the Development Academy coaches who were taking part in the 2013 Academy Showcase.
Klinsmann confessed that taking the U.S. through World Cup qualifying in CONCACAF was a new experience and one that took much of his energies to learn about and become prepared for. However, now that he has a better understanding of U.S. Soccer and the rest of the region, he feels that he can adequately achieve his aims as technical director.
“The first two and a half years were a learning curve for me, as well, my first time going through CONCACAF, my first time going through the different stages of qualifying for a World Cup and making it,” Klinsmann said. “That experience has been a great experience but not an easy one. As you know we started the Hex with a loss in Honduras and then we took off.
“But having done all that, I have a better understanding; I have a better feel for the Federation. You get to know each other, you know now who plays what role, so that all became, not a routine, but something you’re familiar with. Now you can touch other areas. You can have good conversations with people that drive the game at all different levels in this country. That’s why I’m so eager to take that role on as well because I want to be part of it. I want to be part of soccer making it to another level in this country and build on the strong foundation that was already built by the people before I came on board and to keep on improving everything here.”
Though he’ll always be judged by the USMNT’s results at the World Cup competitions, Klinsmann already has an early wish-list of goals that he’d like to achieve. The USMNT head coach wants to prepare for the 2016 Olympics with camps starting next year, he wants to continue to identify more dual-nationals who are eligible to represent the USA, and he wants to work very strongly with Major League Soccer for Americans up to the age of 21.
Klinsmann cited the fact that in Europe, if youngsters at the top clubs aren’t in the first team, they’re playing regularly in Under-21 or Under-23 divisions or even in the new UEFA Under-19 Champions League. In MLS, outside of a few clubs that have played more of their younger players, a majority of the homegrown players or other youngsters signed find it hard to break into the first team, and the reserve league just isn’t doing enough under Klinsmann’s standards to further their development.
“We want to improve the competition,” said Klinsmann. “We want to improve the quality of the players. A big topic from us, on our end, is that we have to find ways to give playing time to kids coming out of the youth system. The kids that go into the professional ranks, how do we make sure that these kids continue to play and play 40 or 50 games a year which they badly need in order to grow and in order to reach their highest potential one day. Because if they miss out on one or two years and only sit on the bench or are not playing at all, being loaned out or whatever, they miss a big chunk of their development and therefore will never reach their highest level.
“If I look at Tab’s group that was in Turkey,” Klinsmann continued, “you can look at all of these players name by name and you can see how many games they ended up with in the last season, playing in MLS or in other clubs, then we are far, far behind (other nations). Those are topics that we need to put out on the table, that we need to find solutions for because at the end of the day we’re all going to benefit from it.”
MLS commissioner Don Garber admitted in his State of the League address that the league is spending $20 million per year in academies and player development. Though there may not be immediate results, the new contract for Klinsmann gives him a chance to help see more youngsters improve and potentially raise the level of the USMNT to an even higher level.