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In the lead-up and aftermath of matches, U.S. Soccer typically sends out video clips of interviews with Jurgen Klinsmann. They're convenient sound bites to see what the United States men's soccer coach and technical director has to say about the latest task at hand, but most of the time nothing new is revealed, especially when Klinsmann is comfortably talking about what U.S. Soccer wants him to discuss instead of fielding questions from the media.
On Sunday, Klinsmann comments about Friday's win over St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Tuesday's World Cup qualifier at Trinidad and Tobago were released. But of the 20 videos featuring Klinsmann, one clip was different from the normal sterile, straightforward response. In this video, the coach offered something new.
In his two-minute, 42-second response to a question about what he has learned about World Cup qualifying in CONCACAF, Klinsmann chose to address the growing concern and criticism over his national team program after a string of disappointing results from the senior side down to the Under-17s. And in his defiance, he gave himself and his coaching staff a collective pat on the back for the progress that has been achieved during his four years in charge.
Here is what Klinsmann said:
"I think we can be proud of ourselves in what we've done so far, the last couple of years – in ALL age groups. I think this is what a lot of people unfortunately forget quickly. Because suddenly we came out of the Group of Death in Brazil, I don't know, people now expect maybe miracles, expect you to get easily into the final four of a World Cup or final eight, or have our Under-20s win the World Cup in New Zealand or our Under-17s win the World Cup in Chile. And that's not gonna happen. Because this is only a process that over many, many years will hopefully one day end in big, big successes.
"All of our programs made big strides, made big steps forward, and this is something where our coaches like a Tab Ramos and Andi Herzog with the 23s right now or even a Richie Williams [with the Under-17s] that was eliminated in the first round in Chile – which was the most, by far the most, difficult group he was in – and now we're going through a tremendous learning experience and brought our players to another level in their individual stages. So this is pretty cool to see. I think the Under-20s with Tab [had an] outstanding World Cup in New Zealand [but] lost it on a penalty shootout against the world champions in the quarterfinals.
"So when you hear a lot of people talking some things are going wrong because you lost maybe two or three games recently, then that's a bit immature (laughs). That's simply wrong. There's a lot of work ahead of us in all our areas but there's also a lot of excitement because our players are hungry for improvement. And hopefully, with that game [a two-legged playoff against Colombia] the under-23s have in Brazil, the second one will do maybe even a result that's better than the first one. But even if not, they're making strides."
OK, there's a lot of ground to cover. First, this silly notion that "miracles" were anticipated after last year's World Cup.
Sure, Brazil 2014 was generally regarded as a success for surviving the Group of Death, but no one in their right mind expected global domination by the Americans, at any level, as the next step. Turns out, conquering CONCACAF was too much to ask. A lackluster senior team stumbled through the Gold Cup before getting ousted by Jamaica in the semifinals and then got outplayed by Mexico in the CONCACAF Cup with a 2017 Confederations Cup berth at stake. Victories in both were among Klinsmann's own stated goals for 2015, the other being Olympic qualification, which became more complicated by an embarrassing semifinal defeat to Honduras in Utah.
Then there's Klinsmann's bemusement about the negativity surrounding all of the poor performances of late. Duplicating the foundation that he helped create as Germany head coach will take years to establish in America, where the youth system didn't deliver him top talent right away like he benefitted from in Germany. Still, it's not "wrong" to openly question the methods and decisions of the man calling the shots when his senior team loses five of six games, including three straight, going into the competition that will go a long way toward determining failure or success for the second act of his USMNT tenure – World Cup qualifying for Russia 2018.
If anything, an 11-8-5 record since Brazil 2014 has lowered expectations for Klinsmann. Playing attractive, winning soccer regardless of the opponent – something Klinsmann promised when he took over as USMNT head coach four years ago – isn't even in the conversation anymore. Nowadays, having an American side play up to its ability would be considered a victory.