Jurgen Klinsmann on what's behind the new wave of young American stars in Europe -- and the implications of their success

When Jurgen Klinsmann departed as U.S. national team coach in November 2016, just three players who dressed for the losses to Mexico and Costa Rica will be with the national team in the Concacaf Nations League, which starts on June 3.

John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin were then young holdovers from the 2014 World Cup. Christian Pulisic was 18 and playing his first full season at Borussia Dortmund for Thomas Tuchel, his manager now at Chelsea.

Pulisic's cohorts were just starting out. Weston McKennie was in his season at Schalke 04, playing for its U-19s. Tyler Adams had just won the USL Championship as a 17-year-old with the New York Red Bulls II. Gio Reyna was playing in his second season in the Development Academy with NYCFC's U-15/16s.

Since then, Pulisic, McKennie, Adams and Reyna have blossomed into stars as a new wave of young Americans has burst on the scene across Europe. Klinsmann says their performances at some of the biggest clubs in Europe make him smile.

In a media call with U.S. journalists on Wednesday, Klinsmann talked about their progress and how the American soccer scene has changed over the last decade since he was appointed as national team coach in 2011.

What Klinsmann finds most satisfying about the success of the young Americans in Europe in recent years is not just their maturity but also their growth as players and people.

"You want to see a development as a person, as a character, as a human being and this goes kind of hand in hand," he said. "Every person is different and has his own up and downs and his own difficulties or gold moments. But every time one of the boys scores a goal or has an outstanding performance, it just gives me a smile on my face."

Klinsmann said the success of players like Pulisic, McKennie, Adams and Reyna, who all played on teams that reached the knockout stage of the 2021 Champions League, will have long-term implications on American soccer.

"It shows all the American kids and talents and players, wherever they are and whatever league they're playing in, that there is a path," he said. "To the biggest teams in the world, there is a possibility.  If you believe in yourself, if you work hard and, obviously, if you have the skill set for it."

Klinsmann says the talent has always been there in the American ranks, but he agrees that what is different is that young Americans are much better prepared and they and everyone around them are more realistic about what it takes to make it in Europe. And they are starting out as pros at much younger ages.

"The generation now is prepared for making a big move, at a very early age," he said. "We all always had the discussions about first college, then the professional game, what is the right move? Then we had more and more kids turn pro after the first year of college or maybe the second. Now you have that huge pool of young players at the age under-18."

Klinsmann said the success of the USA at the international youth level -- three straight quarterfinal appearances at the Under-20 World Cup under Tab Ramos and a quarterfinal appearance at the 2017 Under-17 World Cup under John Hackworth -- confirmed the talent was always there.

"This is what really happened over the last 5-6-7 years," he said. "They became courageous enough, their families and their personal environments figured out a way to prepare them the right way, mentally and step by step, physically."

The turning point came when European clubs aggressively entered the U.S. market in search of young players.

"European scouts look at the American market completely different today than they did 10 years ago," Klinsmann said. "Because of all those youth tournaments, the age got younger and younger where they scouted players in Africa and Asia or in South America.  It also came into the American market, and they came to watch Development Academy tournaments, they went to watch U-15s, U-16s, U-17s, and they made themselves familiar with American players at a far earlier age than they ever did before. And the result is, now we see more players earlier going to Europe, trying it out, testing the water and getting experiences."

Americans have been going to Europe for more than 30 years. He cited longtime national team stars like Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller, Steve Cherundolo and DaMarcus Beasley who had long careers abroad.

"But having them in having them in Champions League teams, that's a little bit different," Klinsmann said. "The creme de la creme of world football is the Champions League, and now having two players on Saturday in the final actually on the team sheets [Pulisic for Chelsea, Zack Steffen for Manchester City], that's a big deal and that makes all of us really happy."

He said what stands out about the young Americans is their confidence and cites McKennie, who made the move from Schalke 04 to Juventus and broke into the lineup.

"It tells you a lot about the confidence of this player generation," Klinsmann said. "They have trust in themselves, they believe in themselves, and Weston is a great example. Weston is a very outgoing kid. He has no fear, he has belief in himself. And he knows how to adjust himself in different environments. When I heard the news he was going to Juventus, I was going, what? He just kinda broke through at Schalke, and was going to Italy to one of the biggest clubs in the world? That speaks for his confidence and also his desire and this drive to prove a point. And it's a different generation that we deal with."

He said the big test will come in World Cup 2022 qualifying when these young players will be asked to take responsibility and guide the USA back to the finals.

"That's what they hopefully develop now over these years in these big clubs," Klinsmann said, "they develop the capability to take over responsibility when it really matters, so there is not another disaster coming along anymore, where everybody was speechless because the things didn't go so well in that particular game [2-1 loss at Trinidad & Tobago] and suddenly you're not at the World Cup. I think we have now a generation of players in the U.S. represented in European clubs or represented in MLS teams that have more confidence, that have more -- I would call it -- coins in their pockets to pull out when it's necessary."

16 comments about "Jurgen Klinsmann on what's behind the new wave of young American stars in Europe -- and the implications of their success".
  1. Donald Lee, May 27, 2021 at 11:01 a.m.

    How does this guy have a media call with journalists?  His post-playing career is a series of failures.  Soccer media can't be THAT desperate ... can they?

  2. beautiful game replied, May 27, 2021 at 12:28 p.m.

    JK had his failures as a coach, but his article has a lot of merit. Judge the content and separate it from the messanger or vice-versa.

  3. Peter Bechtold replied, May 27, 2021 at 12:59 p.m.

    Where does this anti-JK movement come from ? Having lost to Mexico and Costa Rica in 2017 ? Has everyone forgotten that the US under Klinsmann was the first team to ever win at Azteca ? The first team to win at Italy ? To win at Netherlands(Amsterdam) ? At Germany ? Etc.etc.

    Had I been in charge, JK would have been Technical Director (because he coached without a proper license), but in any case he saw the importance of developing players beyond the white suburban middle-class boys, and now this has been happening. He also saw the importance of bringing in foreign players with an American connection as a bridge to the future, much as the Republic of Ireland managed to do and got to the WC Finals for the first time.
    Was he too "Foreign" ? When appointed,he had lived in California for years with his American wife and American-born children and all played in SoCal leagues. Gosh-Almighty!

  4. Bob Ashpole replied, May 27, 2021 at 6:58 p.m.

    Good points, Peter. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Some people focus only on JK's mistakes and forget about his strengths. There was no better ambassador for US Soccer to Europe than JK. 

  5. Anthony Bates, May 27, 2021 at 6:19 p.m.

    Jurgen knows what's up.

  6. John DiFiore, May 27, 2021 at 11:05 p.m.

    I don't recall anyone saying he was "too foreign".  The issue seemed to be that even with his over recruiting (yes), of dual nationals, he still couldn't win the games we needed and left us in a deficit that was hard to come out of.  I was pro-klinsi when we hired him, but he proved to be a weak coach. I don't regret his time and influence with the team, but he stayed too long. Too bad Bob Contigilio was sick during those times.  Also, "we should have more players in Europe".. Really, no sh!t Sherlock. As if he was saying something profound.  Nice that we have more homegrown players in top leagues now.

  7. R2 Dad replied, May 27, 2021 at 11:21 p.m.

    I recall a time 3+ years ago when we didn't have a bunch of Americans in Europe, Jordan Morris wanted a dog and the comforts of home instead of a big challenge across the pond. And Bob and Bruce were towing the MLS party line about developing just as well in MLS. So it wasn't Duh obvious and MLS needed to understand their place in the global market instead of trying to ring fence the youth market in this country.

  8. Bob Ashpole replied, May 28, 2021 at 12:07 a.m.

    R2 Dad, its about money and our outlier players. MLS wants to have them under contract so they can gain a transfer fee when they go to Europe at age 18 or later. They aren't trying to build a fence and prevent players from going to Europe. Rather they just want to profit from it, which gives them an incentive to promote the transfer of those under contract.

  9. Ben Myers replied, May 28, 2021 at 12:29 a.m.

    For me, it's often hard to separate the coach from the players available when looking at success or failure of any squad.  The talent level of the USMNT squad Klinsmann coached was not very high overall, and, even the esteemed Bruce Arena was unable to rescue the team from the disaster of failing to qualify.

  10. Philip Carragher replied, May 28, 2021 at 7:26 a.m.

    Bob, maybe the parents of the pay-to-play players that get overseas contracts should also participate in transfer fees? What disappointed me about Klinsmann's reign as coach was a lack of noticable change in player development in the Development Academy teams I was around. The only discernable difference was suddenly everyone was playing a 4-3-3 and coaches were yelling at players to press higher. To this day I wonder who was and is responsible for player development because whatever wide-eyed hope I had for improvement in this area when Klinsmann came aboard never happened. US Soccer's expertise and focus seemed to be all upfront: hand over the tuition check to the club and sign this contract tying any future income streams generated by a kid's success to those who didn't finance the education (or lack thereof). Maybe the $70k/year colleges and universities should try the same approach? And Ben, I agree. These coaches can only work with the resources at their disposal although it appears that they're supposed to do something to improve feeder system they rely upon.

  11. frank schoon, May 28, 2021 at 9:51 a.m.

    Guys, there seems to be a lot of opinions on JK going from negative to positive, what he should have accomplished to what he didn't or whatever. Look I view JK in the overal sense as a positive development. We needed to bring foreign ideas into our mix of things which American coaches dont' have. JK brought into play more a 'realistic' approach to things.  To judge him on winning or losing games, is so simplistic and naive...

    I want more foreign coaches and foreign influence coming here to aid our soccer development...it is the same reason why we sent our boys to Europe to become better players. But don't expect to win the world cup or beat high quality caliber teams because we have a foreign coach like JK for the NT.....look at the Trinidad&Tobago fiasco and look what we have to work with....

    Philip, don't expect JK to influence the development of soccer academies for that was not what he hired for. He was hired to run the NT, to pick the best players and make a good team. He is not responsible developing the American players a long term process.

    Another problem I see down the road is perhaps a major let down if results don't pan out after constantly reading about the large number of our boys playing in Europe and doing so well. So much of this positivism is being fueled by Soccer Journalists who lack the technical insights of the players and therefore fail to give more critical analysis of players.... I think this is one of the major of our development here, which is a lack of good technical/tactical perspective on players....like "oh ,wow, he scored, he's good!"...that's about the level we're on currently.......

  12. beautiful game replied, May 28, 2021 at 11:40 a.m.

    F.S. tells it like it is, leaving the rest to the spinmeisters. 

  13. Brian Taylor, May 28, 2021 at 1:22 p.m.

    Agree completely with Bob Ashpole and Peter Bechtold. Jurgen is a phenomenal success as a player and as a coach, and the criticism from unproven hacks just comes with the territory. I think he's one of many factors that the rising tide of US players is making a broader impact in Europe. Nothing but the highest respect for the guy, and grateful that he was our USMNT coach.

  14. cheese Pony, May 30, 2021 at 8:24 a.m.

    JK was the first National Team coach to be blunt enough to call out American players and clearly state "to be the best you need to play in Europe to test yourself against the best - MLS will not make you the best."  This was a dig at Altidore, Dempsey, and Bradley, who bailed from Europe when the going got tough, but I give JK and the USDA ALOT of credit for pushing these new players forward.  

  15. Wallace Wade, May 31, 2021 at 9:43 a.m.

    The Anti-Klinsmann people are the same people that continue to corrupt Soccer in the United States. He ran a foul of Garber and Gulati. He challenged American players to "step up" to big Clubs in Europe. Those that continue to bash him and the Cree that wants to continue to cripple the game in the United States 

  16. Kent James, May 31, 2021 at 3:02 p.m.

    JK was a different experience for the US.  He brought a lot of new dual national players in (and sure, I'm open to that) but I felt he proriitized them too much (seeming to prefer German players not good enough for their national team to anyone we could produce).  He was right that players who had the opportunity to go to Europe should, but the bigger question there is "is it better to be a bench player for a good European side or an integral part of an MLS team"?  I think for JK the answer is obvious, but I don't think it is.  Sure, sticking it out in Europe for a season or two to see if you can break in makes sense, but players need to play.  Some players may do better in the European situation, but some players may not.  It varies too much on a case by case basis to make the blanket statements JK did.  JK helped the US take a more worldly view, which was a benefit.  But it was time for him to go when we got rid of him.  He had already made as many positive changes as he was capable of making.

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