Jurgen Klinsmann doesn't doubt the ability of the players at his disposal with the US national team. He's just not sure they always share that same belief in themselves.
That lack of belief, according to Klinsmann, is what may be holding American players back from thriving with elite clubs in Europe. After a year in which the USMNT's two most succesful European-based field players – Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley – returned to Major League Soccer, the German hopes a deep World Cup run can help launch the careers of those still plying their trade on the Old Continent as well as those eyeing a future move.
“It needs to take the US team in a World Cup to go into at least a quarterfinal, if not a semifinal, to give more credibility to American players," Klinsmann said in an interview with ESPN. "But it’s also the American players when they go to Europe to prove that they can be big players in Europe. So it’s also down to do they have the belief? They have the qualities, but do they have the belief?
“Because you go into a European top club and if you want to play in the top five, six teams in England or Germany or Italy, you have 15, 16, 17 national team players on the roster, so you have to kick somebody out. I think the American player still doesn’t have this last belief that they can kick somebody out. This is something that they have to build.”
And what exactly should US players be building toward? For Klinsmann, the target is clear: the UEFA Champions League.
“We need players someday like Brazil, Argentina that play Champions League. Champions League in Europe is the crème de la crème," he said. "This is where the trend is made in the Champions League. The way they play this year in the Champions League, you will see it in the World Cup in Brazil in summer. The systems, the approaches because it is the best of the best. We do not have players there.
"My wish is that maybe after the World Cup we get Jozy Altidore, our No. 9, into a Champions League team or Tim Howard becomes goalkeeper of a big team. We have good players, but we don’t have the belief yet that we belong in there.”