USA national team coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, is engaging. His voice has a laid back feel -- he has lived in California for a while. And from there he stares out across a continent of differences, and beyond that, over the sea to Americans playing soccer in foreign lands. From this acreage he picks the ingredients that must safeguard the American settlement in world soccer. Consider the weight of responsibility. It befits the German national to have a relieving chuckle now and again as he picks the cargo that will carry America to the samba party at the 2014 World Cup Finals in Brazil. The qualifying sails will be raised in June.
Last week's Olympics elimination fiasco for the USA was noted not just for the result. Many people, without knowing the game's structures, assumed the senior team were carrying the can of humiliation. Even though the U-23 squad coached by Caleb Porter was the real loser, the focus turned on Klinsmann and his vision for the future. The U.S. Soccer Federation acted fast. Klinsmann would now be available to the press on a regular basis to discuss everything. Perhaps the men in blazers feared panic creep before Klinsmann's ship, let's call it the Amazon Bound, leaves the harbor.
After taking over the helm in 2011 in place of the stern Bob Bradley, Klinsmann insisted on a root and branch reform of the U.S. game. The current U.S. colony on Planet Soccer was established through hunger, a bite that proved to the old masters of the game that Americans could compete and win against them. They laughed at the Yanks to begin with but underestimated the fire of players like Brain McBride and Landon Donovan among others -- players happy being tough underdogs. Chewing on the bones of bigger beasts was most satisfying. But the USA is no longer considered an underdog in most of its match ups. So where will the feed for the long term Klinsmann project come from?
Here are some bones from the latest press conference call with Jurgen Klinsmann.
The melting pot crew
"I have to adjust to the different soccer landscape in this country, adjust to the fact that 75 to 80 percent of the players are overseas, some in Mexico, so they're all over the place. They come in from all different backgrounds, so that's a bit of a different challenge. I just take things the way they are, and then I look for solutions and I look for ways to communicate with them in their own ways. Maybe I have to adjust and use Twitter and Facebook to get hooked to them and get a message out to them, which I hadn't done before. So as a coach, it's important that you kind of analyze your environment and say OK, based on what you've seen now, this is what you have to do and you have to change the way of doing things. It's important to get the messages out to the players and that they understand why we do certain things, why we want to encourage them to look at things a little bit different. Every one of them has lived their daily lives in a very different way, and so we have to figure out how we get things across to them and hopefully make them step-by-step a little bit better in everything that they're doing."
The seeds for tomorrow
"How can we help our youngsters and our kids to develop to the highest level possible? What structures can we give them? The introduction of a 10-month season is just one of these pieces. It's crucial that we adjust to the global game. It's crucial that we understand that soccer is not a seasonal sport. Soccer is a sport that is played 12 months of the year. In most of the soccer nations, it's really played 11, 11 and a half months out of the year. How can we compete with those nations? Whatever it takes in the discussion and what is ideal for 10- to 14-year-olds and further up, what is ideal for all these kids, then you should adjust. We need to find a tier-driven environment because we need to give a lot of the younger players the opportunity to get enough games per year. If you look at the players between 18 and 22 years of age and you summarize all the amount of games they really have and see if they are part of an MLS system, then maybe simply it's not enough. It's really worth it to get everybody at the same table sooner or later and discuss all those topics. It's not me coming in and saying this is what we need, it's really everybody involved that needs to come together and say, 'This is how we need our players to grow more effectively, to grow more continuously and not drop off in a couple of months here and a couple of months there as often was the case.' But this is a huge topic."
Every American wishes the fair winds blow the Amazon Bound to a solid trade in goals. Klinsmann may also benefit from the wisdom of Goethe. Carve this on the mast -- "Der Worte sind genug gewechselt, lasst mich auch endlich Taten sehn!" (Enough words have been exchanged; now at last let me see some deeds!)
Alan Black is the soccer columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. He is the author of the memoir, Kick the Balls - An Offensive Suburban Odyssey, and The Glorious World Cup. (Penguin USA). He edits the soccer online magazine, The Header