NEW YORK — A face already familiar in American soccer circles finally has received his close up, this time as the figurehead for the future of the sport in the United States.
Jurgen Klinsmann, the German soccer icon who was named as Bob Bradley's replacement last Friday, was officially introduced as the new head coach of the US national team during a press conference on Monday. The 1990 World Cup winner, who has lived in the US for more than a decade, said he is facing his new challenge with both pragmatic and optimistic expectations.
“Having lived here for the last 13 years and having known the US soccer environment for quite some time … there’s always been kind of this feeling around that maybe one day, I would get the opportunity to coach the US team,” Klinsmann said. “This is a big moment for me personally and for us as a family, and I’m really proud that I get that opportunity to be a part of the future of US Soccer.”
“It seems like now the time is right,” he added. “We have a clear understanding of what we want to do, and that’s why I’m really happy that we’ve found this comfort level and we can move forward.”
US Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said that Klinsmann’s contract will run through the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Klinsmann, 47, becomes the first foreign-born coach since Bora Milutinović led the team from 1991-1995. His hiring ended a courtship that first made headlines in 2006, when US Soccer reportedly wooed Klinsmann in the months after the US were bounced from the group stages of the World Cup in Germany and Klinsmann coached his native country to a third-place finish on home soil.
The two sides met again following the Americans’ exit from last summer’s World Cup in South Africa, but failed to come to terms until recently, when Klinsmann agreed to take on perhaps the most challenging position yet of an impressive career as a player and coach, which has also included a season as manager of Bundesliga side Bayern Munich.
As a player, he is easily the most decorated figure to take the top job with the US national team. He won a World Cup with West Germany in 1990 and helped lead them back in 1994 and 1998, becoming the first player ever to score at least three goals in three separate World Cup appearances. He also helped Germany to a win in the 1996 European Championship.
“It’s a great thing to have someone who’s been on the winners’ stand at the World Cup and the European Championship,” Gulati said. “He’s won a bronze medal as a coach at the World Cup. For us, that’s a fantastic situation.
“To have actually tasted the success of winning a World Cup, we think that’s a plus, for sure,” Gulati added.
Although his hiring comes as little surprise to those who have followed US Soccer’s recurring interest in Klinsmann, last week’s abrupt dismissal of Bradley and the ensuing hire was an undoubtedly rapid-fire sequence of events for the federation.
The US’ performance in last month’s CONCACAF Gold Cup likely sealed Bradley’s fate, considering the Americans coughed up a 2-0 lead on home turf to regional rival Mexico in the final en route to a sobering 4-2 loss. Mexico completed their stunning rally with two goals in the second half, in a fashion eerily similar to when Brazil’s three-goal outburst topped Bradley’s US team in the 2009 Confederations Cup final.
Gulati downplayed the Gold Cup result, but insisted that the federation always examines the head coach’s security after a major tournament, and that the time was right to make a change.
“It’s not a single game or a single result,” Gulati said. “It’s where the program is, how comfortable we feel in the direction that it’s going, based partly on results and based partly at looking at the last year. After the Gold Cup, which is a benchmark for us obviously, it was a natural time to look at where we were."
First up for Klinsmann is an international friendly against Mexico on Aug. 10 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Klinsmann said he expects to name his roster for the match as soon as Wednesday, taking into account the schedules of all US players in MLS, Europe and elsewhere.
Klinsmann did not speak at length about which players he expects to call into camp for the upcoming US-Mexico game, but insisted that it will be a challenge to pull the team together in such short time and achieve a positive result.
“[US Soccer] has come a long way, but we have quite a way to go still to break into the top 10 in the world,” he said. “We need to be realistic that we’re not there. Not yet.”