[USA MEN] U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said the tough draw at the 2014 World Cup had nothing to do with the organization's decision to renew Jurgen Klinsmann's contract through 2018, making him the first national team coach to get a contract extension before the World Cup finals.
For Gulati, who said coming to terms with Klinsmann on a new deal was "relatively straightforward," the 4-3 comeback win at Bosnia-Herzegovina was "symbolic" for what he was said was "a new mentality" in the national team.
"We’re playing a ranked team, a World Cup team as it now turns out, we’re down 2-0, we come back to tie the game 2-2 and then we don’t sit back," he said. "That’s a new mentality. The players had the confidence to continue to press forward against a good European team, in Europe, where we’ve come back from two goals down and not be willing to accept a draw and we go on to win that game 3-4. Were there some mistakes in that game? That answer is yes. We gave up two goals. But that sort of mentality, which I think feeds into players competing very hard at every position – and that’s been talked about – is a big part of what we’ve seen. And Jurgen’s desire to see the U.S. not sit back and try to play teams, try to press teams further down the field. All of those things are extremely important."
More generally, Gulati wasn't just impressed with the USA's winning record the last two seasons -- -- but some of opponents it has beaten: Mexico and Italy away in 2012 and Germany and Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2013.
"We’re pleased with that," he said. "That doesn’t mean we haven’t qualified before, won the Gold Cup before, but not only the wins and losses but how we’ve played. We think supporting that effort, both going into the World Cup and beyond, is the right way to go.”
Gulati acknowledged that U.S. Soccer has usually waited until after the World Cup finals to make its coaching decisions, but there were "pragmatic market considerations" at play and the desire get a contractual commitment for a long period of time for Klinsmann, who had attracted interest from the Swiss national team and Tottenham, according to media reports.
"Sure, some of that matters, but not specifically the Switzerland or Tottenham issues," he said. "But generally a coach that has done very well, that has an international reputation, who speaks multiple languages would be sought after."
Gulati said World Cup results aren't the only consideration in evaluating a coach.
"I think Jurgen is a unique coach with unique opportunities so that’s certainly part of what we wanted to do," he said, "but we like what’s been happening with the program over the last couple of years. All of this doesn’t come down to one game or one missed shot or one save. Clearly, the World Cup is extraordinarily important and it’s a measure of where we are, but it’s not the only thing and the only way we measure ourselves.”
Handing Klinsmann the additional role of the technical director was, according to Gulati, "formalizing ... something that has been informal" and ensuring that he spends more time in his second term in the areas of coaching education and the academy programs and youth national teams.
Klinsmann was in Florida for the Nike International Friendlies, where the U.S. U-17s beat Brazil, 4-1, to win the tournament. He said his first two and a half years were learning curve for him, but he is now familiar with the landscape of American soccer.
"That’s why I’m so eager to take that role on as well," he said, "because I want to be part of it. I want to be part of soccer making it to another level in this country and build on the strong foundation that was already built by the people before I came on board and to keep on improving everything here.”
Klinsmann said a key area to address was the development of and playing time for young players at the beginning of their pro careers in MLS.
"Because if they miss out on one or two years and only sit on the bench or are not playing at all, being loaned out or whatever," he said, "they miss a big chunk of their development and therefore will never reach their highest level."
He pointed out examples like the U-21 Premier League in England, second teams for German Bundesliga clubs that play in the third or fourth division and the new Under-19 Champions League in Europe. On this level, he said young American players lag far behind -- pointing out the example of Tab Ramos' team that played in the 2013 Under-20 World Cup.
"So if you add it up, these youngsters between the ages of 19, 20, 21 and 22, they get 40 to 50 games a year," Klinsmann said. "Meanwhile, if I look at Tab’s group that was in Turkey, you can look at all of these players name by name and you can see how many games they ended up with in the last season, playing in MLS or in other clubs, then we are far, far behind."
(Read more on the media teleconference Gulati and Klinsmann held with the media on Friday.)