SÃO PAULO, Brazil — Omar Gonzalez admits he has never played for a coach quite like Jurgen Klinsmann.
The positive outlook and enthusiasm the U.S. national coach exudes is second to none.
“It’s big kudos to him,” the U.S. central defender said Saturday. “If you’re going into games thinking you can’t win, then you’re probably not going to win. He puts all his faith in us. He gives us all of the confidence in the world. We believe we can step onto the field with any team and beat them.”
So far so good for the Americans, who weren’t given much of a chance to get out of Group G but they did so, leaving the likes of Portugal and Ghana behind.
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Much of the U.S.’s success in the competition can be attributed to Klinsmann’s positive outlook. He demands much from his troops, but his criticism usually is on the constructive side. He rarely has ripped players in the media.
Several weeks ago, Klinsmann made headlines for what was perceived as negative comments about the U.S.’s chances, saying the Americans would not win the World Cup this time around.
U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati downplayed those comments.
“He exudes confidence,” he said. “The comments he made about we can’t … that’s not what he believes, that’s not the sort of guy he is. I walk into a room with Jurgen when we talk to him and you come out of that room believing that you can win the World Cup. He never says you’re going to win the World Cup, but he’s so confident about it. That’s extraordinary.”
Some observers interpreted those original Klinsmann remarks as him keeping the bar as low as possible. But on Friday, the coach threw out a challenge to his team. He wanted his players to think big and to think about even the championship game.
“If everybody goes to their own personal limits in the context of the team, we’re going to go further in this tournament,” Klinsmann said. “You’ve got to realize that moment. So I asked all of the players to make sure their flights are booked for July 13. That’s how you have to approach a World Cup. Always start with the end in mind. The end is July 13.”
July 13 just happens to be the date of the championship game in Rio de Janeiro.
In fact, Klinsmann’s enthusiasm was in overdrive as the Americans prepared for their round-of-16 game against Belgium in Salvador on Tuesday.
“It just gives you more hunger for the next step,” he said. “This is now what we need. We want to have those benchmarks. We want to be one day in the top 10, top 12 in the world.”
That has been par for the course for the Americans during Klinsmann’s three-year tenure.
“He wants to play at a high level,” veteran left back DaMarcus Beasley said. “He demands a lot out of us. Always makes us be on our toes for games. He also demands that perfection out of the players.”
Klinsmann has had success in the World Cup as a player and as a coach. He won in 1990 playing for West Germany, and he directed a young German team to a third-place finish in 2006.
“He understands the players’ needs,” Beasley said. “He’s a guy who is very enthusiastic about the game, still. I know he wishes he probably can still play. He has given us his wisdom. He’s very confident when he coaches. We listen because he knows what he’s talking about and we can learn a lot from him.”
That confidence has gone a long way with an underdog U.S. side.