DENVER – Even nearing the end of perhaps the harshest week of criticism he’s faced yet as the head coach of the US national team, it’s nearly impossible to keep Jurgen Klinsmann from breaking into a smile.
And he did plenty of that during a press conference at the historic Paramount Theater in downtown Denver on Thursday, brushing aside both the recent anonymous critiques of his coaching acumen and the public comments from former US coach Bruce Arena about non-traditional American players taking up roster spots on the US team.
The US team will take on Costa Rica in their first home World Cup qualifier on Friday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (10 pm ET, ESPN/UniMas, Live Chat on MLSsoccer.com).
The Sporting News article released Tuesday citing 11 anonymous players who questioned Klinsmann’s preparedness and communication skills has cast something of a shadow over the US camp this week in Denver, and prompted veteran midfielder Michael Bradley (right) to call the entire situation “shameful” and “embarrassing” during a media session on Wednesday.
Klinsmann was much softer with his words on Thursday in his first public comments since the article was released, but he did question the veracity of the sources used in the piece.
“What does it mean, 'anonymous quotes?'” Klinsmann said. “That’s just part of our environment. Journalists and people can say whatever they feel, whatever they think, whatever they believe, which is important. I think it’s a great sign, all the debate that is going on about soccer in this country. It shows you that people care.
“No, I don’t have any problems with [the article],” he added. “Obviously I prefer that if you have a problem with me, come to me and talk to me about it. The so-called ‘anonymous quotes’ where we do don’t know who said it; is it a player, is it an agent, is it a fan or whoever? But it doesn’t distract us from what we’re here for or. Our focus is strictly Costa Rica.”
Klinsmann added that he has no real interest in discovering which anonymous players questioned his coaching methods in the story, despite the fact that it’s highly likely a few of the players who criticized Klinsmann following last month’s 2-1 loss in Honduras are back in camp for the Costa Rica match and next Tuesday’s match against Mexico in Mexico City.
“It really doesn’t bother me that much,” he said. “If it’s true, which obviously it’s still a rumor because if you say ‘anonymous sources’ then you gotta name it, then you’d rather prefer as a coach or as individual, no matter who you are, that people talk to you directly if they have something to complain about. It’s as simple as that.”
Klinsmann also responded to the recent comments from Arena (right) in a piece published Thursday on ESPN.com featuring the current LA Galaxy head coach and former USMNT boss questioning the inclusion of players born outside of the United States on the US national team.
“I don't even know some of the players, which is odd as the former coach,” Arena told ESPN. “Players on the national team should be – and this is my own feeling – they should be Americans. If they're all born in other countries, I don't think we can say we are making progress.”
Klinsmann has famously introduced a number of players to the US national team who, while eligible to play for the US under FIFA guidelines, were not born in the United States. Two of those players – midfielder Jermaine Jones and striker Terrence Boyd – are in the current camp, while other German-American players like Timothy Chandler, Danny Williams and Fabian Johnson suited up against Honduras last month and are presumed to be integral pieces for the US team going forward.
The latter three, however, are battling injuries or illness and were left off the camp roster this week.
“I don’t look it as a criticism, I just look at it as [Arena’s] opinion, and that’s totally cool with me,” Klinsmann said. “The world is changing and it’s a global game. I believe Americans are Americans no matter if they grow up in Japan, South Africa or Buenos Aires. Our job is to identify the best talents with American passports and see if they are good enough to come into that elite group. By finding those answers, the only way to do that is actually inviting them in and see how they do in our environment and give them their opportunity.”
Klinsmann cited New Jersey native and Italian international Giuseppe Rossi as a casualty of US oversight in the past, and insisted that no matter where a player was born, he’ll still have to prove he’s one of the best 23 players the US can produce ahead of the World Cup in Brazil next year.
“I look at it as a global picture, Bruce looks at it a different way,” Klinsmann said. “I totally respect that.”