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August 11, 2011
Klinsmann plans an active role in player development

By Charles Cuttone/Executive Editor

Jurgen Klinsmann views improving the U.S. player development process as part of his portfolio as National Team Coach, saying “I am just excited that I can be part of that process.”
Jurgen Klinsmann views improving the U.S. player development process as part of his portfolio as National Team Coach, saying “I am just excited that I can be part of that process.”
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
\New United States National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann plans to take on a key role in the area of player development, and hopes to effect a change in how players come through the system and are identified for the National Team program.

One of the things Klinsmann hopes to see change is the perception, and to some degree reality, that soccer is a wealthy or at least middle class pursuit in the U.S., thereby depriving the sport of a vast pool of athletes who choose other sports, such as basketball, over soccer because they are more affordable.

“I think definitely we need to attack that topic because soccer is an inexpensive sport,” said Klinsmann. “It’s a lower class sport, so everybody should be able to play the game, and the better you play it, the more chances you should get to move your way up. Here, the pyramid is upside down, because the better the kid is, the more you pay as a parent and that shouldn’t be the way. “

Klinsmann says the current pay-to-play model, while hindering the access to the sport, also has some plus sides.

“There needs to be a plan in place over time to keep both sides involved, because it also has a good thing because you have a lot of coaches involved that know what they are doing because they are getting compensated for it. And on a top level they really try their best to keep themselves updated, they have their licenses and all that stuff, but there should be a lot of effort going into lower class environment to see if instead of having them play hoops, play soccer.”

Still, Klinsmann, who has lived in California for quite some time and has an American wife, sees how much the sport has grown since the U.S. hosted the 1994 World Cup.

“If you look at where the game was 15-20 years ago and you see where this game is now, a lot happened in the United States, a lot happened in America with soccer,” he said.

“Now suddenly, the so called bigger sports, they have us on their radar screen. We’ve started fighting for their TV spots. If you look what ESPN invested into the World Cup, last year in South Africa, now with the Women’s World Cup. The Women’s World Cup was more televised in the U.S. than it was in Germany, which is a soccer-crazy country. So you see that the game is going. Yes there is still a long way to go, yes there are a lot of things to be addressed, like this topic.

“But I think a lot of things started already and it needs getting a lot of people at the table and discuss it and see where everybody can help within this whole process. I am just excited that I can be a part of that process.”

Major League Soccer, which over the past several years has significantly increased its team-level youth development programs, will be a large part of that development, according to Klinsmann.

“The partnership between U.S. Soccer and the MLS teams has become more and more important, and the academy teams are led by the MLS Academies,“ Klinsmann said durina wide-ranging 20-minute interview with a handful of writers prior to last Saturday’s Union-Dynamo game at PPL Park.

The integration of the MLS and U.S. Soccer Development Academy programs could in fact lead to the development of a so called American style of playing the game.

“This is really a very important channel to filter down the right information and also the right kind of programs of how kids should train, play, how it should be set up. The initiative throughout the country with all the academy teams, I think 70, 80 teams now, it will go further. Everybody’s effort to connect the game all the way down to the grass roots level and the different organizations throughout the county to connect each other.”

While Klinsmann clearly understands his major objective is to improve results at the top level of the National Team, after disappointments in the recent Gold Cup, it could be a generation or more before the full effects of what he wants to implement and create are fully known.

“I think that will be part of my work as well, to kind of get to know people, to connect people and spread the word out. With soccer, its like basketball, the more you play, the better you get. The more we get the kids to play, the better they will get. The more MLS will go in the same direction, all the academy teams grow more whatever leagues you are talking about take the same information, eventually you will build a stronger foundation.”

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