WASHINGTON – US national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann pronounced himself pleased with his staff’s daylong liaison with leading members of the US soccer media in the nation’s capital on Wednesday, and sounded a similarly bullish note about the overall state of the program.
Speaking to reporters later in the day at the Capitol Soccer Classic, a benefit event featuring politicians and retired national teamers at Gallaudet University, Klinsmann underlined his conviction that the US will qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and maintain the program’s growth and improvement.
“I think we know that going through that stretch of 10 [CONCACAF Hexagonal] games, there will be some up and downs,” he said. “We still have a way to go. But I’m confident that we’re going to get the job done and go to Brazil for next summer.”
The German legend also alluded to the “transparent” reality of coaching in the modern era and his desire to “educate a lot of people on our path towards Brazil” after he chatted with U.S. Soccer Foundation president Ed Foster-Simeon in front of a modest crowd before the event’s marquee match.
Klinsmann arrived at Gallaudet, the nation’s leading college for the deaf and hard of hearing located two miles north of the US Capitol Building, after a busy day of informational meetings with the USMNT press pack but was his usual energetic and effusive self.
“It was a real good exchange of thoughts, of ideas,” he said of the presentations he and his staff produced for the media members. “We wanted to present a bit of the work we’re doing behind the scenes. I think they took it really well, it was a very honest exchange of experiences, thoughts, so we want everybody to understand what process we are going through, because we are going through a process of change, of transition, introducing a lot of new players, young players, to the program.
“But I think the more the media side of it understands what we are doing, the easier it is for them to kind of get the word spread out, say, ‘OK, it’s not going to be all gold – there might be some silver or bronze in there as well,'” he said with a grin. “And that’s what we tried to do today.”
Arriving a month after the Sporting News' explosive behind-the-scenes article roiled the waters around his team, the timing of Wednesday's conclave led some to wonder if it was an exercise in damage control, but Klinsmann dismissed that idea.
“No, I think it’s just a logical piece to add in all our work because the game is just growing,” he said. “The game is not the same anymore like it was, maybe four years ago, when it was a year prior to the World Cup in South Africa – I mean now you have different circumstances. Michael [Kammarman], our press officer, pointed it out: We had now 45 American journalists coming with us to Mexico City [for the March 26 qualifier against Mexico]. I think that’s never been there before.
“I think the interest on a media level is growing month by month … MLS – it’s growing, the attendances are growing, TV contracts are getting bigger. All those things. The interest on the youth level is getting bigger. So we need to adjust to that and we hopefully can educate a lot of people on our path towards Brazil so they understand what we are going through, and therefore it’s good talking about it, like we do now.”
Does that increased attention – and criticism – complicate his task as coach?
“No, no – it makes it more transparent,” said Klinsmann. “We have nothing to hide. The beauty of this game is that you can see it from the outside, you can follow it. Everybody can make up his own mind, everybody can become the expert and express his feelings or his opinions, and that’s the cool part of soccer. You know, if you go to a soccer game and you talk about the lineup and there’s 60,000 different lineups that they want to see! And that’s the good part of it.
“Everybody owns that game, and hopefully people realize that they can identify with that national team, that they play the way they hopefully want to see that team play, and they share their thoughts on it. So by already having a debate, that’s good for the game.”