Gulati impressed by national team's 'new mentality'

[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.)
10 comments about "Gulati impressed by national team's 'new mentality'".
  1. David Mont, December 14, 2013 at 8:31 a.m.

    So, 4-3 in a friendly is symbolic of a new mentality? What about coming back to tie Slovenia in a World Cup game or beating Algeria in the last minute -- that's old mentality?

  2. John Roode, December 14, 2013 at 9:20 a.m.

    I think you missed the point, David. The point that Sunil made was that once they came back to tie the game from 2 down, they didn't hunker down in an away game and play for the draw, with "the hope" that they "might' score another goal. They kept pressing for the go ahead and then another. Not every country has the confidence to play attacking soccer. There are really only a few that would prefer to win a game 6-5 versus winning a game 2-0. Holland, Germany, Brazil, Spain... others are looking for a win at any cost. Only a few develop the attitude that says let's keep scoring. And if you notice, the above list consists of countries that have been pretty successful over time. So, the point that Sunil is making is that to truly become one of the elite, you need to have an attack mentality to "your game". And he believes Klinsmann is doing that... developing a "soccer power" mentality.

  3. Walt Pericciuoli, December 14, 2013 at 10:43 a.m.

    I agree. This is what has been needed for a very long time. Now, in his new role as Tech Director, perhaps this mentality will push player development forward at all levels. Also, I like the idea of focusing on our young professionals (ages 19-22)to get them more competitive games every year. Regional U21 leagues comprised of MLS 2nd teams and perhaps some lower division pro club 2nd teams, paid for by those teams would be a great idea.

  4. BJ Genovese, December 14, 2013 at 1:04 p.m.

    They need to make a larger pool at the younger levels. 14 15 16. Instead of just having the same kids to camps and building confidence with them only. They need to have an A and B camp.

  5. Kent James, December 14, 2013 at 2:51 p.m.

    David, you make a good point. One could also look at the recent friendlies against Scotland and Austria and suggest that if we have an attacking mentality, it's not very effective. On the other hand, one should not judge coaching competence on individual games (but Sunil did start it!). John, I think your example is too easy; a more realistic decision for a coach is "is it better to lose 4-3 than win 1-0 (or draw, 0-0)". Personally, I'd say yes (I'd rather go down swinging than try and destroy the game), but I understand why coaches, who are primarily judged by results, choose the "safer" option. I was not initially impressed with JK's moves (influx of athletic German-Americans, very defensive minded approach with 2 Defensive center-mids), but he's gradually become more offense oriented, so we're moving in the right direction. I'm not sure I buy the "we had to lock him in or he'd go to the Swiss national team or a club team" justification. Being a national team coach is a pretty sweet gig as long as you can keep it.

  6. John Roode, December 14, 2013 at 7:46 p.m.

    Well, Kent, I can tell you, coming straight from the horses mouth... a Dutch National Team Coach that is a personal friend of mine... that they would prefer to win 6-5 vs 2-0. Now, would they prefer to lose? Never. That's kind of a ridiculous question don't you think? The bottom line is... if we're gonna lose, we're gonna go down swinging... not covering up.

  7. DonJuego Lee, December 14, 2013 at 8:49 p.m.

    The Boznia-Herzgovina game is so miss-understood. After whipping the US's butt in the early going B-H switched out their players and switched off their game. They had nothing more to prove. That game meant nothing to them. For Sunil to cite it as a proof of anything but our inferiority to them is quite naive.

  8. John Roode, December 14, 2013 at 9:39 p.m.

    One other thing, Kent. The fact that he used/uses 2 defensive mid-fielders does not necessarily mean that you are any less attacking. Having 2 defensive midfielders can actually allow your flank mid-fielders to become more forward-minded and become more like wingers... because they are relieved of some defensive responsibilities by the presence of 2 central mid-fielders enforcing the midfield by being able to help on the flanks easier than 1... instead of 3 mid-fielders enforcing the mid-field, often-times it can be done with 2. But those 2 are likely more defensive minded and can bring a more stout defense than 3. It all depends on the mentality and skills of the flank players. It' more of a refinement and specialization of roles. If they are of the mind to penetrate and get behind the outside backs, then by having 2 defensive mid-fielders, they are free to do what they are inclined to do. Bottom line... don't get caught up in 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 4-5-1 etc... but instead, look at the combination of players that a coach puts on the field and what they are best at... in addition to understanding how many he wants to play behind the ball.

  9. stewart hayes, December 15, 2013 at 1:59 p.m.

    Sunil Gulati has made a mistake and he will regret it. Trying to justify it in the way he has done only makes it worse.

  10. David Huff, December 15, 2013 at 4:08 p.m.

    Yes Stewart, I think Sunil Gulati now regrets hiring Banal Bob Bradley instead of JK for WC 2010, imagine the possibilities in what was a much easier path to the top given the draw we were gifted with at that time. JK would have spanked the inferior English. I am so glad to see us go away from Brit/UK long ball loser mentality. Brits out!

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