That’s the life of a backup goalkeeper, perhaps. His arrival as a free agent did not entail a hefty fee or drawn-out transfer saga, and he didn’t step straight into the starting lineup of a squad that was winless when he arrived. It might not stay that way for long, however.
That’s certainly his plan. After three years in Europe marked by plenty of education and growth but precious little in the way of first-team minutes, the son of German legend and former US men’s national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann is ready to play. And the Galaxy say they’re ready to give him the opportunity to do so in MLS.
“As a goalkeeper you kind of have to wait a little bit sometimes, almost get lucky, occasionally,” explained Jonathan in a recent one-on-one conversation with MLSsoccer.com.
The younger Klinsmann turned pro with Hertha Berlin — his grandfather’s beloved club — after two NCAA seasons at Cal and spent the past year at Swiss side FC St. Gallen, where he says “the team was doing really really well, the [starting] goalkeeper was playing great and so I just didn’t see an opportunity for me to come in and start playing. And for a goalkeeper at my age, that’s pretty much the most important thing.”
Now 23, he was a regular presence in the US youth national team system and earned Golden Glove and Best XI honors while leading Tab Ramos’ US Under-20s to a Concacaf championship in 2017. Now he’s returned to his hometown club in search of the next phase in his career.
“The Galaxy reached out a while ago and said look, we will take you into the first team and we can give you a fighting chance,” he said. “That’s all I needed to hear, that I’d have a fair chance to play.
“I was just super happy to be able to sign for a team that I’ve supported since I was young. It’s pretty surreal, to be honest,” added the Newport Beach native. “To be able to come back and just play in front of my family and stuff, I’m really excited about it.”
He inevitably carries an extra burden of sorts thanks to his father’s exploits as both a player and coach, especially given his entanglement in one of the most controversial chapters of Jurgen’s eventful USMNT tenure. When Landon Donovan was left off the United States’ final roster for the 2014 World Cup, Jonathan – who was 17 at the time — posted a tweet that appeared to mock the USMNT and Galaxy legend, prompting fan anger, a stern talking-to from his dad and eventually an apology and the deletion of his Twitter account.
That youthful transgression has since faded into the rearview mirror, and despite growing up in the public eye, he says his father’s stardom has brought him far more good than bad.
“He opened so many doors, he has so much knowledge, he knows the game so well,” said Jonathan. “So any challenges that would come up, he already knew how to deal with them. Mostly in Germany, everyone's very appreciative of what he did over there and it was more just people coming up and saying hi, almost thanking me for what he did with the national team.
“With the name, people expect a little bit more, but at the end of the day I'm pushing myself. The biggest goals I have to play, it’s going to come from me. So baggage, not really. He has so much experience in these things, he already knows what’s coming and he knows what to do about it. so really not too bad, actually.”
He regularly turns to his father for advice, and for all the sound and fury around Jurgen urging some USMNTers to test themselves in Europe, Jonathan says “he was very supportive” of his Galaxy move.
David Bingham has been LA’s starter in goal since the start of the 2018 campaign, but has posted just three clean sheets in 13 matches this season and currently sports a 1.69 goals-against average. LA inked Klinsmann to a multi-year contract, a gesture of faith that he appreciates after finding his chances so limited at Hertha and St. Gallen, and has been the backup ‘keeper on their gameday rosters since his arrival.
“They said you could be the goalkeeper for us, we have faith in you. When I talked to the coaches as well, it was the same thing: we believe in you, we’ll give you support, and that’s what I’ve gotten so far,” said Klinsmann. “Hopefully I can pay them back soon.”
Job one is carving out playing time with the Galaxy; should he make progress there, it will fuel his dream of returning to the national-team scene. He took part in a USMNT camp at the end of 2018 and aspires to get back into the mix for Jason Kreis’ U-23 team before they resume the Olympic qualifying process that was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year.
“For me right now my focus would be on Tokyo and the Olympics, so I’m hoping to make that team and help them get there first, and then be part of the Olympic squad. That’s my dream right now,” he said.
Meanwhile, he’ll stake his claim for a spot in the reinvigorated Galaxy’s XI.
“We realized we can beat any team in MLS if we play at the level we want to. We have the talent, we have the skill, we have the mentality to beat any team in the league,” said Klinsmann of LA’s back-to-back rivalry wins over LAFC and San Jose in late August.
“[I’ll] do everything I can in training,” he added, “show the coaches that I’m ready to play, let them know what I’m here whenever they need me, and at the end of the day it’s their decision if they want to play me or not. So I’m just going to be there for the team, I’ll be there for the coaches. I’ll be ready.”