U.S. Coach Hopes to Guide Country Into Soccer Elite

Times Staff Writer

Forward Frank Klopas of the United States soccer team entertains teammates with impressions.

Klopas' funniest impression is of former coach Lothar Osiander, who resigned because he earned more as the headwaiter at a San Francisco restaurant than he did as a part-time coach.

"Futbol must come from the heart," Klopas says, pounding his chest, as he mimics Osiander delivering a pep talk.

His teammates chuckle at Klopas' routine.

Klopas, though, has not perfected an impression of Bob Gansler, who succeeded Osiander last January.

That's understandable because Gansler isn't flamboyant. He has the low-key manner of a college professor.

As Gansler put the team through practice for Saturday's World Cup qualifying match against Trinidad and Tobago at El Camino College, he offered encouragement as he moved from player to player.

"I like (Gansler) because he communicates a little bit better with the players than the previous coach," said midfielder Jim Gabarra, who also plays for the Los Angeles Lazers. "He's very straightforward. He tells you what your role on the team is and what you do well and what you need to work on.

"There was nothing wrong with (Osiander) but we weren't together as a team."

The U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF), bidding to send a team to the 1990 World Cup, hired Gansler, of Milwaukee, as a full-time coach and gave yearly stipends of $20,000-$30,000 to the players on the national team.

Previously, the national team was assembled only before important matches, but this team trains together for a third of the year.

Coaching the national team is the culmination of a dream for Gansler, 47, a player and coach for 30 years.

"Bob has devoted his whole life to soccer," said Gansler's wife, Nancy. "He took me to a soccer game on one of our first dates."

Devoted may not even be a strong enough word.

Once, according to Al Hospel, Gansler's best friend, Gansler was walking around a soccer field. He stopped behind the goal and said, "One of these days I'd like to be buried here."

And yet, although he is consumed by soccer, baseball was Gansler's first love.

A switch-hitting catcher at Marquette High in Milwaukee, Gansler attracted the attention of the Milwaukee Braves, who offered him a minor league contract.

"I could have gone and played in their rookie league," Gansler said. "But I thought it was too long of a trek to the majors so I decided to go to college."

He attended Marquette University, where he played on the club soccer team.

But Gansler really learned the game with the Milwaukee Bavarians, a club for whom he has played 14 seasons, five as player-coach. He coached the Bavarians to a national championship in 1976.

Although the Bavarians are an amateur team, Gansler took his role as coach seriously.

Players weren't allowed to drink or smoke while in training and practice was mandatory.

"He was a tactician," said Hospel, who plays for the Bavarians. "You had to follow your assignment or you'd get pulled out of the game.

"But I can't remember anyone who wouldn't accept what he said. A lot of guys were looking for discipline."

His players respected Gansler because of his successful playing career.

A sweeper, Gansler captained the 1964 and 1968 U.S. Olympic teams and the 1963 and 1967 Pan American Games teams.

He played one season for the Chicago Mustangs in the North American Soccer League before deciding to concentrate on coaching.

Returning to Marquette University, he coached the soccer team from 1964-67 while earning a master's degree in German.

After graduation, he coached at Marquette High, where he won a state title and five conference titles in nine years, then moved on to the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, where he spent five years before he was hired by the USSF.

Did the USSF gamble by hiring a college coach?

"College coaching is not the true test," said Wake Forest Coach Walt Chyzowych, a former U.S. national coach. "Bob has coached on the international scene."

Said Gansler: "I don't think I'm coming in cold. I've been around the USSF for over 20 years. I've coached many of the players on this team as they came through the ranks."

Gansler coached the U.S. under-19 team from 1979-82, and it qualified for the World Youth tournament in 1981, the first time a U.S. youth team had advanced that far in world soccer competition.

Earlier this year, he coached the under-20 team to fourth place in the same tournament, the best finish by a U.S. team in an outdoor soccer competition in 59 years.

"He's a great organizer. That's what helped us in (the World Youth Championships)," said Kasey Kellar, a goalie for the under-20 team. "He knew what the other teams were going to do before they did and he was really able to prepare us.

"I've been with him since he first got hired on the under-20 team and he's a lot easier going. When he first got hired, he was anxious to prove himself. He has really relaxed."

But all aspects of Gansler's new job have not been so smooth.

After a 1-0 loss at Costa Rica in his first game with the national team, Gansler spirited the team out of the locker room, leaving reporters with nobody to talk to.

John Polis, the USSF publicist, said he was embarrassed.

But Gansler called it a misunderstanding, saying that the locker room had been too small to accommodate reporters as well as the team. The coach and players later met the press at their hotel.

And after beating Costa Rica last month in St. Louis, Gansler opened the locker room to reporters and said it will continue to remain open after games.

That's important because the U.S. soccer team has attracted unprecedented attention. Its World Cup qualifying games are being televised and an ABC network news crew has followed the team this week.

There have been other glitches as well.

After the national team scored only one goal in two World Cup qualifying matches against Costa Rica, for instance, Gansler was criticized by some for using a rigid system, stifling creativity.

Not so, said midfielder Tab Ramos.

"I think he gives us more freedom than any other coach I've ever had with the national team," Ramos said. "He wants every player to do what they do best and he encourages them to be creative within the team concept."

The criticism doesn't bother Gansler.

"Everyone is entitled to their opinions," Gansler said. "In the first (Costa Rica) game, we didn't play at a fast enough pace. Using basketball terms, it was like we walked the ball up the court every time even when there were fast-break opportunities. We waited for them to set their defense and we were constantly attacking against 11 players.

"We solved that in the second game but we went overboard. We were constantly looking for the fast break or, as we say in soccer, the quick play or counter. We were forcing it. We have to have a happy medium."

Gansler is also under pressure as the U.S attempts to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 40 years. The U.S. will automatically qualify for the 1994 World Cup because it will be held here.

"It's important for us as players to prove to the world that we can qualify and not have the World Cup handed to us as it will be in 1994," goalie David Vanole said.

But if the U.S. fails to qualify, will Gansler lose his job?

"If we were the Washington Redskins and we were favored to win the Super Bowl and we didn't make the playoffs, I think (Coach) Joe Gibbs would be looking for a new job," said Art Walls, chairman of the USSF coaching committee.

"But you've got to remember that we're babies in world soccer. Although we've made a very strong impression on the world soccer scene in the last few years, we've got a long way to go."

Gansler agreed.

"The World Cup is Mt. Olympus," he said. "We want to climb that mountain, but in the meantime we have to scale some lesser peaks and be satisfied with Mt. McKinley."

Gansler has instituted a rigorous training program to prepare for the climb.

The national team's daily schedule includes team meals, practices, scrimmages and meetings as it prepares for Saturday's match. The players are busy from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

"We don't need a curfew because most of us are so tired at the end of the day that all we can do is sleep," Klopas said between practices. "Coach really works us."

Gansler developed the work ethic at an early age.

He was 11 when his parents emigrated to the United States from West Germany.

Gansler was born in Mucsi, Hungary, a small village where his family owned a vineyard. The southern Hungarian village had been settled by Germans, lured by the offer of free land.

After World War II, the entire village was claimed by the Hungarian government, which gave the 3,000 residents three days to move.

The Ganslers fled to Frankfurt, but didn't feel welcome there.

"While we were in Hungary we were considered Germans, and while we were in Germany we were considered as Hungarians," Gansler said. "So we thought that we might as well try to be Americans."

They settled in Milwaukee, where they joined 100 other families from their old village.

"My first couple of weeks here, it seemed like it was going to be a tragedy, but I adapted pretty well," Gansler said.

Gansler's father, a bricklayer, envisioned a better life for his only son in America, sending him to college and graduate school.

And now, Gansler is trying to boost American stock in a European game.

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