PHILADELPHIA — After the disappointment from a Gold Cup final loss that led to a coaching shakeup, Jurgen Klinsmann is set to lead a new era of U.S. Soccer.
He's getting a crash course on his new team, coaching his first game Wednesday night against Mexico less than two weeks after he was hired to jolt a program plagued by a series of lackluster results.
Welcome aboard, Coach.
Now get out there and win.
"Jumping into a game this right away is not an easy task, but it's an exciting one," he said Tuesday.
Klinsmann, one of the greatest players Germany has ever produced, was put in charge of making the U.S. competitive again in the World Cup. After reaching the round of 16 at last year's World Cup, the Americans took a step backward this year. They were routed by Spain in early June, upset by Panama in Gold Cup group play and then blew a two-goal lead against Mexico in the Gold Cup final, costing Bob Bradley his job.
The early — real early — returns are promising.
Klinsmann says he's encouraged by the positive attitudes and talent after only a few days of camp. He jumped into training camp with an open mind about who could become impact players, and where the pipeline needs more prospects.
Klinsmann sounded like an NFL draft guru in his desire for the Americans to get younger, get deeper.
Some of the best US players — Landon Donovan, captain Carlos Bocanegra, defender Steve Cherundolo, Clint Dempsey — are aging, and the U.S. didn't have the best track record of developing promising young talent under Bradley. At least, not enough of it. Klinsmann wants to find the next Donovan; the new generation of goalies.
If Mexico is the focus this week, the 2014 World Cup in Brazil never seemed too far out of his thoughts.
"I need to make sure the right people are in place," he said.
The Gold Cup loss to Mexico was a sign that the U.S. team's progress had stalled under Bradley. The U.S. almost hired Klinsmann twice — first after the 2006 World Cup and again last year before giving Bradley what turned out to be a short-lived contract extension.
Bradley's son Michael, a midfielder, called his fired father a "strong guy" who handled the news like a pro.
"It's part of the game," Michael Bradley said. "Nobody would have expected he was going to be here 20 years. You know that going in. My dad, more than anybody, realized that. He was always committed to work as hard as he could and doing whatever he could to help the national team while he was here."
Now it's Klinsmann's turn.
Klinsmann led his native Germany to a third-place finish at the 2006 World Cup, and had opportunities to coach big European clubs or national teams. But he spurned them for the chance to stay in the United States — his wife is American and they've lived in California for the last 13 years — and take on the challenge of turning U.S. soccer into World Cup contenders.
"After a couple of days, I'm highly impressed with these guys," he said.
His familiarization process with his team has been sped up. Klinsmann had about 13 players for the first training session Sunday night, and the first full squad training session was Monday morning. The team practiced Tuesday across the street from the site of the game, Lincoln Financial Field. About 25,000 tickets had been sold at the home of the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles
Donovan, the face of American soccer, was encouraged by the message and spirit of his new coach.
"Jurgen has very positive energy and it's infectious," said Donovan, who briefly played for Klinsmann at Bayern Munich in 2009. "I think the guys have already taken to that well. As far as tactical things and a style and an approach to the way we play, that's going to take a while."
While he felt "sadness and compassion" for Bradley, Donovan said a fresh outlook was appreciated.
"We're kind of at a tipping point now where it's time to really go for it," Donovan said. "We're not worried about whether Major League Soccer is going to make it or not anymore. We're not worried about, do we have the kids that are talented enough. We've seen now we have kids talented enough to play on the world stage. We need to cultivate that more."
This is a "friendly," the first since 2008, but it'll be anything but. These are the two best teams in CONCACAF, and it's a heated rivalry whenever and wherever they play. Mexico has only beaten the U.S. twice on U.S. soil since 2000, but the wins have been in the past two Gold Cup finals.
"We're going to give them a fight," Klinsmann said.
Mexico won't have striker Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez for this game, but it's still a solid roster. El Tri's bringing Rafael Marquez, Giovani dos Santos, Andres Guardado and Pablo Barrera, who scored twice in the Gold Cup final.
Klinsmann could unleash his energetic, attacking style against Mexico. He wants to put on a show that wins big games and make the game appealing for American fans.
"We'll go for it," he said. "We'll take risks and put the opponent under pressure."
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