World Cup 2014

World Cup: Klinsmann says USMNT, CONCACAF improving but lack confidence on global stage

Jurgen Klinsmann offered up another set of fascinating comments about the US national team, their CONCACAF rivals and their prospects at the World Cup, opening up about his experiences at the USMNT helm in an interview with FIFA.com.

Mixing optimism about his team's progress under his leadership with a distinctly realistic outlook on their place in the world soccer landscape, Klinsmann hailed his team's doggedness and winning mentality but claimed that their confidence still flags when they face up to the global elite.

“We went into Italy, went into Russia, into Bosnia, and we got results, because we believed in what we were doing,” Klinsmann said. “We turned games around last second like in Panama, where people thought, 'OK, the game is over,' and I said, 'The game is not over until the referee blows the final whistle.' And this is a very important mental approach that we have to develop over years – it's not happening overnight.

“We still have to work a lot on that approach: Going into a game and take the game to your opponent, or at least be eye to eye with them, with European nations or South American nations. Because obviously [the USMNT] look at the name, they look at the players on the other side and say, 'Oof, can we deal with them?' And you've got to tell them, 'They only cook with water as well.'”

The German-American coach was similarly evenhanded about the wider status of the North American region heading into this summer's World Cup in Brazil.

“People in Europe or in South America look differently now at CONCACAF,” said Klinsmann. “They say, 'Well, they are catching up.' They always had technically very gifted players, good players, but the question was often, 'Can they get the tempo with the big nations? Can they go with the pace of the big nations?' And I think that's where they caught up.

“You're not beating Honduras or Costa Rica easy any more, it doesn't happen. They will give you a real fight. And therefore I think it's a positive sign for CONCACAF. In a World Cup itself then, it has a lot to do with the belief, it has a lot to do with the mental side of the game and that's where maybe CONCACAF still has to prove that they can get a team in the quarterfinal, in the final four one day.”

Stepping back to address big-picture issues, Klinsmann sounded more like a technical director than a senior-team coach, which is understandable given that he now carries both titles for U.S. Soccer.

“It's picking up, it's being played more and more,” he said of the sport's growth in the United States. “Millions of kids are playing it. Other big sports are struggling to recruit kids. American football, there's always the danger of concussions and all that. Basketball, they say only the tall ones will make it. Baseball, a lot of parents, it's boring. So soccer is picking up...

“The game is growing, it's getting, on the grassroots level, better and better so it feeds us better players in our system.”