In a game celebrating the United States Soccer Federation's hundredth anniversary, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann will come face to face with his own enduring legacy when the USA faces Germany ( live, Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET ), his old team as a player and a manger, in the friendly held at RFK Stadium.
"It is something special," said Klinsmann on Saturday. "We asked for that game already two years ago and now it happens, and it's our centennial game." In front of a sell-out crowd of 46,000 at RFK Stadium, the United States Soccer Federation will mark its 100th anniversary.
The Germans will field a B-team, of sorts - Borussia Dortmund , Bayern Munich and Real Madrid's players, who form the backbone of the team are all unavailable. But the sheer depth of even the second string - Lukas Podolski and Per Mertesacker and Andre Shurrle and Sven Bender and Miroslav Klose, my oh my - is a testament to the strength of the program Klinsmann helped build. On Wednesday, this outfit resoundingly beat Ecuador, running out to a 4-0 lead in 24 minutes before letting off and settling for the 4-2 win , hours before a mostly complete USA took its own 4-2 whipping from a threequarters-hearted Belgian side.
The German federation overhauled its youth development after their fetid performance at Euro 2000, getting heavy into technique, rather than brawn and toughness, by essentially nationalizing part of the soccer education of the brightest talent through regional training centers. These were the same ideas and principles that laid the groundwork for Belgium's booming production of elite talent, by the way, as evidenced on Wednesday.
Following yet another disappointing Euro in 2004, Klinsmann was hired to implement the technical methodology at the senior level. "We had to change a lot of elements, we had to try out things, we had to do things differently because the way they were done before didn't work," Klinsmann recalls. He was much-criticized. "Going into a phase of change you always get some critical moments and people will always get nervous a bit and get cold feet and it's absolutely normal."
Eventually, he rejuvenated the senior team, introducing many of the players now forming its core, and unexpectedly led them to the precipice of the World Cup final on their own soil in 2006. Today, Germany is perhaps the world's most promising young team.
Now Klinsmann goes up against the paradigm of his own making, the blueprint he drew, with his next major cultural revolution, the United States, which, like Germany, he is trying to move on from relying on athleticism and pragmatism.
Lay the growth curve of these programs side by side, however, and the assertion that Germany was much further along two years into Klinsmann's tenure than the USA now is holds water - even when you take into consideration the large disparity in starting points.
Like he was in his German days, Klinsmann is controversial. His body of work with the USA thus far wobbles when stood up against real scrutiny. The zippy passing, the high pressure, the quick transitions: they're a rare occurrence.
"Overall, I think it's going in the right direction, absolutely," Klinsmann countered on Saturday, when asked to compare the process to that with Germany. "Both times are very different and you shouldn't compare. It's a different culture and a different situation. The transition was a lot more dramatic [with Germany]."
To be sure, the tasks are different. With Germany, he was restoring luster to an already-great footballing nation. With the United States, he is trying to build one more or less from scratch. Consequently, making progress with the Americans has been slow going and come on in fits and starts. But in fairness, Klinsmann hasn't had the benefit of a hugely ambitious, meticulous and well-funded youth development program that has yielded him world-class talent, the way he did in Germany.
"What we're trying to do here is we're trying to raise the bar one step at a time - sometimes two steps backwards and hopefully three in the right direction," said Klinsmann. "It's a development that comes with some hiccups. I think we have a way to go to catch up with the top-10 in the world. But I think we're on a good path."
Klinsmann has been through this before, and he has preached confidence and patience. In the end, he got the results with Germany. But projecting real advancement for the American program under his watch takes a good deal of optimism.
These days, Klinsmann's games are as much about showing progress as they are about winning, if not more so. Among the public, confidence ahead of this game doesn't register terribly high. So within that context, showing well by demonstrating style and savvy in a loss would be an acceptable outcome, provided the score remain respectable.
"We'd like to see a performance that doesn't allow the opponent too many chances and doesn't allow them to get into a rhythm of the game, but also a compactness and a tactical discipline in order to cause some problems to Germany," said Klinsmann.
The blazing heat may offer up an opportunity. After Germany's practice on Saturday, veteran striker Klose described the 90-odd degree temperatures and humidity as "exceptional."
"We have two different missions," said Klinsmann. "They want to have a nice end-of-season tour and we want to prepare sharply and precisely for [the June 7 World Cup qualifier in and against] Jamaica - this is our job." This disparity in desire may sap the Germans of their will to dig quite so deep as the Americans might. But then the Americans have three World Cup qualifiers coming up, where the Germans have none.
Priorities will have to be made. And some tangible progress would be nice.