National Writer: Charles Boehm

Jurgen Klinsmann hails MLS’s influence on US Soccer growth: "There's far more respect now"


AL RAYYAN, Qatar – The soccer world is more globalized than ever, and the United States is more a part of that than ever before, too.

That was one of several topics broached at a fascinating presentation led by Arsene Wenger and Jurgen Klinsmann on the eve of the 2022 World Cup’s opening match. The two former managers headline FIFA’s Technical Study Group, a team of seven luminaries from across the globe who will analyze the tournament’s action and help deliver an advanced package of statistical data – available for both teams and the public – for every single one of the 64 matches in Qatar over the next month.

As Klinsmann explained, the analytics breakdowns that used to take three months to process and present will now be available four hours after the final whistle, with a wide-ranging suite of information posted on for all to peruse.

“I lived in America for over 20 years, where you see data being used in sports, especially baseball, but also American football, basketball. It's a very natural approach,” said the former US men’s national team head coach at FIFA's media center just outside Doha.

“And the tools that you can use nowadays are definitely more tools than ever before. And I think another element that you can add to your kind of portfolio of knowledge you have as a coach or as a journalist, or football fan.”

He, Wenger and the rest of the TSG – which also includes former Philadelphia Union goalkeeper and Colombian international Faryd Mondragon, in addition to Alberto Zaccheroni, Cha Du-Ri, Sunday Oliseh and Pascal Zuberbühler – will watch every single game between them, and try to gauge where the sport is headed next.

USMNT supporters, as well as fans of MLS sides like the Philadelphia Union, New York Red Bulls and FC Cincinnati, may be interested to learn that for Wenger, this World Cup is likely to be all about the high pressing, high back lines and high tempo often utilized by their teams.

“The pressing has become absolutely universal now, and I was quite surprised when I came and watched the Arab Cup [in Qatar] in November how quickly information circulates now. Teams play, all over the world now, it's pressing high up, counterpressing, going quickly by pushing the defensive line up,” said the former Arsenal boss.

“That's why long balls behind the defensive lines will be interesting to analyze, how they transition, how important it is to be available quickly when you win the ball in your own half, how much the quality of the first pass when you win the ball, to avoid pressing, will be important. Maybe we’ll find out this World Cup how important the dribble to get out of the first pressing will be.”

Whereas many teams at Russia 2018 – including eventual champions France, spearheaded by the fleet-footed Kylian Mbappé – sat deep and sought to exploit counterattacking opportunities, this year’s tournament is expected to revolve around more tactical aggression.

Klinsmann predicted “a very high quality of play” thanks to European-based players arriving in midseason form and facing little to no travel between games in and around Doha.

“I believe that we’re going to see a tournament of very, very high quality, because the players didn't need another preparation [camp] that they usually do before a World Cup,” said the German-American. “They are fresh, they are hungry.

“This is not a tournament to kind of just sit back and defend. I think it's a tournament that really invites you to go, to be courageous, to go forward. I don't think that you go far if you just have a very defensive approach in this tournament now.”

With the USMNT returning to the World Cup stage after stunningly missing out on the last edition and US players starring in some of Europe’s top clubs and leagues, Klinsmann was also asked about his former team and its coach, Gregg Berhalter. He pointed to the growing power of MLS as an incubator of elite talent like Tyler Adams, Brenden Aaronson, Matt Turner and even Leeds United manager Jesse Marsch.

“It has changed a lot over the last 10, 12 years, how the world looks at American soccer,” he said. “The world looks at America as not only from a national team perspective, but also from a developmental point of view, with Major League Soccer now being there over 25 years.

“So I think there's far more respect now, not only for the players, which now play in [UEFA] Champions League teams in Europe, but also from a coaching perspective, where you see coaches coming through, coaching in different countries in Europe, it has improved a lot."