For a guy who won one World Cup title as a player and took his team to the semifinals in his only previous World Cup try as a coach, Juergen Klinsmann didn't get much of a honeymoon period when he took over the U.S. national team 35 months ago.
He hadn't even got his new business cards before the loud complaints started over his affinity for European players and his dismissive attitude toward Major League Soccer, the top U.S. domestic league. Privately the U.S. players groused about Klinsmann's holistic training methods and his insistence on a 24/7 commitment to fitness and soccer.
Fifteen months ago they nearly staged a mutiny.
But the loudest criticism came just last month, when Klinsmann named a World Cup roster that left off Landon Donovan — the only soccer player many Americans had heard of — but included unknowns such as DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks.
Seven weeks later Klinsmann has the U.S. in the second round of the World Cup, having gotten through a first-round group that included two of the world's top four ranked teams.
If you're waiting for a big, fat "told you so," you won't get it from Klinsmann. At least not publicly.
"It's absolutely no big deal getting criticized. It's just part of the environment," he said Friday, less than 24 hours after his team moved into the tournament's single-elimination knockout stage, where it will meet Belgium on Tuesday.
Klinsmann has been through this before. A decade ago, after taking over the German national program, he overhauled the team's structure on and off the field. A year later he benched popular goalkeeper Oliver Kahn.
But after Germany finished third in the 2006 World Cup, the government gave Klinsmann its prestigious Order of Merit award. And many of the things he put in place are still there — including Joachim Loew, his handpicked successor as Germany's coach.
It has been the same in the U.S. While Klinsmann has been fought every step of the way, the path he's chosen has proven to be effective.
While he's continued to lean toward Europe — seven of his U.S. players, including five Germans, are dual citizens — his roster also includes 10 MLS players. That's six more than Bob Bradley, a former MLS coach, picked for his World Cup team four years ago.
As for his New Age training methods, intense workouts and dietary restrictions that include a ban on soft drinks, they are among the main reasons the U.S. is one of the fittest teams in Brazil — one able to overcome 9,000 miles of travel and games played in both a humid rainforest and a tropical downpour just four days apart.
The jury is split on his roster decisions, although it's leaning in Klinsmann's favor. While Donovan would have been a nice alternative when forward Jozy Altidore went down because of a strained hamstring 21 minutes into the tournament, Brooks came off the bench to score the winning goal against Ghana, and Yedlin has been impressive in his two appearances.
Klinsmann's Midas touch has been so mind-boggling one player quietly credits it to magic "Klinsmann Dust."
"We wouldn't be there without John Brooks' goal against Ghana or DeAndre's movement in the game and so forth," Klinsmann said. "This group is only as good as its bench. This group is only as good as its 23rd player and this is what they hear every day from the coaching side, that everyone is so tremendously important."
The team heard one more thing from its coach on Friday. Two weeks after telling the media that it wasn't realistic to believe the U.S. could win the World Cup, Klinsmann told his players they should plan on staying in Brazil through the July 13 World Cup final.
"I asked this morning, everybody, all the players, to make sure that all their flights are booked after July 13th," he said. "That's just how you have to approach a World Cup. No matter what happens now you can always change your flights. So, it's better to start with the end in mind. The end is July 13th.
"Portugal, one of the favorites, [we] almost beat them. We beat Ghana, the best African team. We should have done better against Germany. So now it's up for the next one, which is Belgium."
Do you believe him? Sure, he was right about Germany, and the European players and training philosophies and his roster picks. But maybe this time he's wrong.
Or maybe this time he's earned the benefit of the doubt.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times