In a session at Austin's SXSW Sports conference on Sunday -- a new facet of the gargantuan music, film, and interactive extravaganza -- Men In Blazers' co-host Roger Bennett interviewed United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann in an hour-long interview that focused on the team's upcoming World Cup adventure. The session was established, in part, to announce Bennett's co-producing role in "Inside: U.S. Soccer's March to Brazil," an ESPN series (debuting on May 13) looking at the team's preparation for the tournament -- though, as the New York Times reported, it won't be a totally behind the scenes documentary a la Hard Knocks.
And yet, the session largely served as a chance for U.S. fans to see Klinsmann -- buoyed by Bennett's enthusiasm about the team and about the growth of soccer in the United States -- giving them reasons to hope for success in Brazil this summer, despite Bennett's humorous depiction of the Group G draw as "Hunger Games in cleats."
The first part of the interview explored Klinsmann's coaching philosophy, and confirmed that Klinsmann sees the coach as more of a guide for players; he pointed out that coaching American football is akin to every play being a set piece, where execution based on practice is paramount. Klinsmann stressed that soccer is intuitive and improvised by the players on the field, and noted that the most important part of his job is people management -- going beyond players to include scouts and trainers.
The session then moved to talk of the World Cup. Klinsmann was positive in a "in 90 minutes, anything can happen" way, saying that if they didn't get all the points they needed to get out of the group in facing Ghana and Portugal, "we'll just have to get them against Germany." He did point out, based on his recent time in Germany preparing the Americans for the unpleasantness that was U.S. vs. Ukraine in Cyprus, that the Germans feel that they've got nine points from group stage in the bag. But he also noted that the U.S. has a team that's capable of surprising people, and that because Brazil has a less-than-perfect infrastructure and widely varying conditions to prepare for, that it will be a "World Cup of patience," requiring an ability to make adjustments on the fly. He noted tha, during an eight-hour airport delay in Salvador while attending the World Cup draw last December, he learned that lesson first-hand.
Klinsmann seemed excited about "Inside" for its potential to help grow American soccer fandom, and thereby kick American soccer into a higher gear. He said, "we realize that the team is going to be the locomotive for American fans, in this World Cup, to realize how fun and fascinating soccer can be. We're thrilled that, with this series, you can come along for the ride with us." He does acknowledge, however, that results at the World Cup are what will help new fans form bonds with the team -- but feels that the show, coupled with good results, will help develop fan allegiance.
The session closed with Bennett detailing his dream for this World Cup, involving a clearly-put-out Sepp Blatter handing Clint Dempsey the golden trophy inside the Maracana. Klinsmann, who sees the World Cup journey as an attainable matter of getting out of group and then winning four matches, smiled as Bennett detailed the dream, and then told Bennett, "Why not? Keep dreaming."