Julian Green (L) and DeAndre Yedlin (R) are both on the U.S. roster for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil and could be returning to Rio de Janeiro for the Olympic Games in 2016.
STANFORD, Calif. -- What’s the biggest regret Jurgen Klinsmann has had since becoming the U.S. soccer men’s national team coach in 2011? You might be surprised, because it has nothing to do with the team he coaches.
It was when the U.S. Under-23 team failed to qualify for the London 2012 Olympic Games.
“There were some very special players coming from that (U-23) team, and for whatever reason it didn’t work out the way it should have worked out and we lost a few (players) who were on that path that should be with this group now,” Klinsmann said.
Klinsmann’s immediate goal, of course, is to lead Team USA deep into the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil, but the U.S. coach is also thinking of long-term goals, mainly qualifying Team USA for a return trip to Brazil for the 2016 Games.
In total, 20 players were named to the U-23 team for 2012 Olympic qualifying. Of them, only midfielder Mix Diskerud and forward Terrence Boyd made the provisional 30-man World Cup squad, and only Diskerud — who scored the opening goal in a friendly last week against Azerbaijan as a substitute — will represent Team USA later this month in Brazil.
Klinsmann was not the U.S. coach in 2012, but he will play a large role in U.S. Soccer’s future. As technical director in charge of player development throughout the national team programs, a title he acquired officially when his contract was extended in December through 2018, Klinsmann is now hands-on in every phase of player development, and that includes the Olympic Games.
Making the 2016 Olympic Games and doing well in world competitions with the U-18s and U-20s is crucial, Klinsmann believes, to national team and World Cup success on the senior level.
Two players who figure to be in the mix for Team USA down the road are getting a chance to soak in the big-time limelight now: DeAndre Yedlin, 20, and midfielder Julian Green, 18, both members of the U.S. World Cup team. Aside from the shocker of star Landon Donovan being left off the squad, the inclusion of these two players with a combined three caps and less than a game’s worth of national team experience was the biggest surprise when U.S. soccer named the final 23-man roster last month.
But give them a couple of years, and they could be starters in Brazil.
Yedlin, a defender, has made his mark in the MLS with the Seattle Sounders. Often making a statement with his various hairdos, whether it is a Mohawk or racing stripes on the side of his head, Yedlin is also making a statement with his play on the pitch. Green, the son of a U.S. serviceman who was born in Florida and raised in Germany, is being developed through the youth program at Bayern Munich, Klinsmann’s former club team in Germany.
Both are hoping their time in Brazil this summer leads to even more time with Team USA down the road.
“I’m trying to take this experience and learn from it, not only for Brazil (in 2016), but all the experiences I have in the future,” said Yedlin, who was a second-half substitute for Fabian Johnson in both the Azerbaijan and Turkey games. “But definitely, yeah. Jurgen’s obviously going to be, not the coach of that (Olympic) team, but very involved in that.”
The coach of that team is Tab Ramos, one of the great U.S. stars of the 1990s. It’s no accident that Ramos is an assistant with Klinsmann in Brazil this month, and he will assemble the U-21s (to be the U-23s in two years, of course) soon after the World Cup ends.
“Tab’s a great coach,” Yedlin said. “I had him with the U-20s, and he’s just one of those coaches that’s so positive. He wants all his players to be free and be individualistic, but play as a team. It’s great, I love it.”
Meanwhile, Green, who didn’t get into the Azerbaijan game but replaced Brad Davis in the 64th minute of the Turkey game and could see playing time again in the final send-off game on June 7 against Nigeria in Jacksonville, Florida, began training with Bayern Munich when he was just 14.
“I’ve talked to (Bayern Munich manager) Pep Guardiola many times,” Klinsmann, a former manager at Bayern Munich, said in discussing Green. “We see a very special talent coming through. He’s getting more and more ready every day. He is getting stronger. He has more confidence. He is very well-respected already in this group.
“In a soccer team, it’s very simple. They measure themselves with the quality you bring to the table, not with the age and not where you’re coming from. … He brings a different element to the game and we’re excited about it.”
For the U.S. Olympic Team, the future is now.
G. Allen Johnson is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. He first covered the U.S. national soccer team in 1991. Johnson is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.