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With Jurgen Klinsmann's confidence comes U.S. team's swagger

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NATAL, Brazil – At one point in his press conference here Sunday on the eve of the United States' World Cup opener, coach Jurgen Klinsmann was asked a question by a Brazilian reporter in Portuguese.

He speaks the language some and tried to keep up only to fall behind at the end. That meant he needed to fumble with a headset that would offer an English translation. Only that wasn't working so well, so finally Klinsmann looked back at the reporter and felt no hesitation, humorously shifting the blame away from himself.

"Work on your English, man," he joked before breaking into a laugh.

The 49-year-old has been on the international soccer scene for decades now, as a star player for West Germany, even winning the 1990 World Cup, and later as coach of Germany, where his squad finished third in the 2006 World Cup.

[Related: Referendum on Klinsmann Way starts with World Cup opener against Ghana ]

He is at home here on the eve of the Americans' opening game, as his teasing of foreign media shows. He smoothly maneuvers with an obvious confidence and an ease that perhaps belies the fact he coaches a U.S. program that is still elbowing its way toward respectability and has few pundits believing it will do much here.

It's not that American teams haven't had confidence in the past, but it's clear they have it now, no matter how tough the draw or low the expectations.

Klinsmann has lived in Southern California since 1998 and if nothing else he delivers a level of L.A. cool that is very much American. The U.S. may wind up losing Monday to Ghana and bowing out of this event quickly, but you'd never know it listening to the coach or the players who have seemingly opened up behind him.

"We are all excited," Klinsmann said. "We are really, really excited. We worked hard for it, a month in camp, we had a set of games, we had endless scrimmages and we did very well. We are full of confidence. It's going to be a challenge but we are excited.

"We want to go far," he continued. "That is definitely our goal. I booked my flight after the final."

This goes against his public statements that the United States wasn't capable of winning this World Cup, a rather reasonable statement even if the sentiment was rejected back home.

[Related: Klinsmann impressed by CONCACAF good start ]

His players say the implication was kind of lost in translation, mistaken as some kind of concession. That's the last thing the coach is about.

The way he has acted here in Brazil is the real Klinsmann, his players say, and it's the Klinsmann swagger that they appreciate. The U.S. doesn't have the history of some of the other teams. They don't have a roster loaded with elite talent. They lack a slew of pure goal scorers. But they do have a coach who has convinced them none of that matters, that they are good enough.

"He gives us every bit of confidence in the world," said defender DeAndre Yedlin.

[Related: DeAndre Yedlin is inspired by Dani Alves ]

This, if anything, is a rather American trait. That it took a German to bring it out is interesting, but understandable. His experience makes this stage feel natural. He's played these games. He's coached these games. He's scored. He's won. The team is paying attention.

"The beauty of the game is that no matter what gets talked about beforehand, it's up to us to step on the field tomorrow and be the better team, enjoy the moment, relish the opportunity to play in the World Cup representing ourselves and our country," midfielder Michael Bradley said. "Certainly we feel like if we step on the field and are sharp and play to the best of our abilities we can have a really good World Cup."

Klinsmann spent much of his press conference Sunday straight up talking about beating Ghana, scoring more than Ghana, walking out of the Ghana game "with three points in the pocket."

[Related: Preview Ghana vs. USA ]

There was no shying away from the expectations for victory. There was no reminding anyone of the limitations of the team. There was no hedging of bets. He's here to win. He's here to advance out of group play.

He boldly compared it to taking over the German team that nearly won the entire thing in his first attempt as coach.

"Well you come in with the same drive, the same energy and the same wishes to do well," he said. "We want to do real well. Training for four weeks and timing it the right way to give the players the confidence they need to beat Ghana tomorrow.

"This is step one. And then comes Portugal and then comes Germany and then we'll see."

[Related: Jermaine Jones won't celebrate against old side Germany ]

We'll see. America will see. The world will see. Klinsmann has been in charge of the U.S. team for three years now, but Monday is in many ways his opening night. It's not a do-or-die event – he has a contract through 2018. Still, he acknowledges this when all eyes are on him.

He compared the national team to a locomotive and he didn't shy away from the thought that it needs to do well to lift development across all levels.

So with a relative lack of pressure to win, he gladly heaped it upon himself. This is his comfort zone, the World Cup, the biggest of spotlights, and whether he has a team right now that can thrive in it or not, he is determined to make them just as comfortable. On Saturday, the players looked and sounded like they were.

Results matter most, but Jurgen Klinsmann has already done this much for U.S. Soccer. And that isn't inconsiderable.

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