Klinsmann’s Opening Gambit

Jurgen Klinsmann has only made two significant moves in his short tenure as coach of the USMNT, but each one is intriguing on its own, and taken together, they reveal an unexpected amount of what the new coach is trying to implement.

In the days after his hiring, Klinsmann spoke about the importance of including the Latin influence in this country, and giving that element its due in the makeup of U.S. soccer going forward.

He also discussed the needs for developing young players and for improving the technical ability of the American player, while demonstrating a knowledge of the various structures in place for the game in the US, from the pay-to-play, highly organized system of youth soccer, to college soccer to the various youth national programs to MLS.

His first roster selection has a notable Latin contingent in Edgar Castillo, Jose Torres, and Michael Orozco Fiscal (he might have added Herculez Gomez as well, but chose not to).

It’s also strong on youth, with 18-year-old Juan Agudelo and 19-year-old Bill Hamid carrying the flag in that department (also 20-year-old Brek Shea, and Tim Ream, who, while not as young as the others—he’s 23—has only one and a half years of professional ball under his belt and just six caps with the U.S.).

Immediately after taking the job, Klinsmann stated that he would keep US Youth Technical Director Claudio Reyna and interim US U-20 coach Tab Ramos as very close associates in his regime. Reyna and Ramos are both players with Latin heritage who grew up in the U.S. and played college soccer before going on to successful professional careers.

When it came time to name assistants for Wednesday’s Mexico friendly, Klinsmann chose Ramos, Martin Vasquez—a Mexican-born former U.S. midfielder—and Thomas Dooley, a German-born U.S. World Cup veteran.

Vasquez coached Chivas USA last season and was an assistant to Klinsmann at Bayern Munich in 2009.

Ramos, one of the best and most skillful American players of all time, has been heavily involved in youth soccer since dropping the curtain on a playing career that included three World Cups and stints in Spain, Mexico, and MLS.

Dooley played in the Bundesliga and for the U.S. in the 1998 World Cup (against Klinsmann in both cases) before wrapping up his career in MLS. Since then, he’s been involved in youth coaching in the U.S. and was part of the staff of Pateadores, the club that won the 2011 Development Academy U-17/18 championship.

These choices blend, pretty seamlessly, all of the elements Klinsmann has talked about so far, from the Latin influence and an emphasis on technical ability to an understanding of the youth and college scenes in the U.S.—all seasoned with a dose of European perspective (himself and Dooley).

Beyond that, Dooley, Ramos, and Vasquez all played with one another on the U.S. team and in MLS, so they have a built-in familiarity.

This trio has not been handed the jobs—Klinsmann said he’ll try out a number of assistants—but they’re an intriguing group and, combined with the roster selection, show a new coach proceeding with a multifaceted plan, and an eye on the endgame.

*Klinsmann also tapped an outside-the-box (no pun intended) goalkeepers coach in Mike Curry, and a proven fitness coach in Mark Verstegen.

Curry was named one of the 100 most influential blacks in corporate America last year for his work with the Vanguard Group and in diversity causes. He played soccer at the University of Baltimore and has been a goalkeepers coach for nearly four decades, working with famed Pennsylvania youth club FC Delco, among other organizations.

Verstegen is the owner and founder of Athletes’ Performance, a Tempe, Arizona–based state-of-the-art training facility. He worked with Klinsmann and the German team in 2006.

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