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Klinsmann open to staying with US after World Cup
Jurgen Klinsmann was at the top of the world.
AP Sports Writer
Jurgen Klinsmann was at the top of the world.
OK, not quite. But as he stood on the sun-splashed 86th floor of the Empire State Building, he was 1,050 feet above ground level and had just led the U.S. to a snowy win over Costa Rica and a draw at Mexico that got the Americans' World Cup qualifying campaign back on track.
He's lived in Southern California for 15 years, raising a son and daughter with his American wife. Coaching the U.S. national team for the last 20 months has been an ideal job, and he's open to staying on after the World Cup for the next four-year cycle - if the Americans play well at the 2014 tournament in Brazil.
"It all depends on results," he said during an interview Friday with The Associated Press. "I want to be measured by the outcome of your work, and the outcome of your work is Brazil 2014. It also depends on how the team presents itself, how they play, what really happens in the games."
A member of Germany's 1990 World Cup championship team, Klinsmann coached his country to a third-place finish at home in the 2006 tournament. He quit four days later citing burnout and pretty much said "California here I come," returning home for what became a role as U.S. coach in waiting.
Klinsmann didn't take the job then despite long talks with U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati, who ultimately hired Bob Bradley to replace Bruce Arena. Klinsmann observed the American soccer scene, went back to Germany to coach Bayern Munich, was fired after less than a season and moved back to California.
He consulted for Major League Soccer's Toronto FC and worked as a commentator for ESPN at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, where the U.S. was knocked out in the second round with an overtime loss to Ghana.
Klinsmann could not shake the impression that he was the shadow U.S. coach. After the Americans played listlessly for long stretches during the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, Gulati fired Bradley and signed Klinsmann to a contract through August 2014 with a $2.5 million annual base salary.
While he had success in exhibitions, leading the Americans to their first win over four-time world champion Italy and their first victory at Mexico City's Azteca Stadium, the Americans struggled in qualifying and weren't assured of advancing to the regional finals until the final game of the semis.
And after the hexagonal - as the final round is known - opened with a 2-1 loss at Honduras as U.S. players wilted in the heat and humidity, Sporting News ran an article headlined "Klinsmann's methods, leadership, acumen in question." It cited 11 players and 11 others with ties to players or the national team - all unidentified - and painted a picture of a team hampered by rift.
"From a professional standpoint, things like that really don't bother me much because I think I'm open to any different opinions and also criticism," he said. "I think a couple things he mentioned there were just simply not true. So how do you take that one? You take it with a smile."
Given the controversy, two German television crews showed up for the U.S. training camp in Colorado. When Klinsmann coached Germany's national team, so many reporters showed up at Baeckerei Klinsmann, the family bakery in the Stuttgart suburb of Botnang, that the coach issued a statement pleading for the "media crush" to ease. Klinsmann says now that whenever he appears in the German media, "you will have people walking into the bakery who make their comments."
In the U.S., where soccer has long been overshadowed by the NFL, baseball, the NBA and college football and basketball, Klinsmann remains relatively anonymous. When he walked down Fifth Avenue with his family - his 15-year-old son already is taller than his 5-foot-11 father - the people asking him to pose for photos or sign autographs all appeared to be tourists.
While the main part of his job is coaching, part of it is expanding America's soccer culture. He's successfully pushed for MLS to lengthen its season, played a larger role in player development with the youth national teams and began a generational change on the national team defense by starting Omar Gonzalez, Geoff Cameron, Timmy Chandler and Matt Besler in recent qualifiers. He's given 17 players their first national team appearances.
Klinsmann has tried to boost players' confidence while at the same time repeatedly reminding them that no Americans other than goalkeepers have played with regularity for Europe's top clubs.
"I really want them to have the feeling that they're growing individually, and eventually the group will grow as well," Klinsmann said. "Just believe in your own path and build up your confidence towards the goal that we have to compete with the best in the world. They know that they have to challenge themselves in order to go eye to eye with more big nations."
Jozy Altidore has been a particular enigma. He has goals for AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands, a record for an American in a European season. But he has not scored for the national team - not counting penalty kicks - since July 2011. Klinsmann even dropped Altidore from a pair of qualifiers last fall.
"In his stage where he is right now, 23 years of age, I wasn't even national team at that point," Klinsmann said, describing Altidore as "a young player coming through, developing, making mistakes, correcting" and predicting "eventually he will score also the goals for us."
Klinsmann said he favored the open, attacking soccer displayed by his German team, where assistant Joachim Loew was in charge of tactics. So far, the Americans have hunkered down for long stretches in road qualifiers.
"There is a little bit of a wrong picture about what is a defensive and what is an attacking midfielder. A lot of people see Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones as defensive midfielders. I don't see them as defensive midfielders. I see them as going both directions with a lot of skill, with a lot of potential," Klinsmann said. "Eventually, we would like to shift the game a bit higher up. But again, as we discussed before, it depends on the opponent."
Change, he says, takes time. While he says he hasn't given it any thought yet, he adds part of the reason he might want to stay for another cycle is to give his management team time to make an impact.
"I really enjoy it - the work," he said. "It took us awhile to build the staff behind the team. And you feel also responsible for all the people that work alongside so, so you want to hopefully give them a little bit of a longer picture there, too."
World Cup results are how U.S. coaches are viewed. First-round elimination in 1998 left Steve Sampson a failure in the eyes of many. A run to the 2002 quarterfinals made Arena a shining success, tarnished only slightly by first-round elimination in 2006. Bradley's term was mixed - he reached the second round in 2010 with an aging back line, but expectations have risen and fans wanted more.
"We still have a long way to go with qualifying and hopefully then our participation in Brazil," Gulati said. "While results are critical for any national team coach and our focus is on Brazil, it's never too early to think about long-term personnel issues. Jurgen and I are in the same place on this topic."