Jurgen Klinsmann is proud of his half-decade in charge of the U.S. national team, and the coach believes he left successor Bruce Arena in a position to make the Americans even better.
Klinsmann made his first public remarks since his firing when he spoke Friday at a convention of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America in downtown Los Angeles. Klinsmann agreed to speak at the session before losses in the first two games of the final round of World Cup qualifying led to his dismissal.
Klinsmann also was the program's technical director for his final three years in charge, supervising every aspect of the team's development and training.
"The results will tell in the future if it helped Bruce to achieve the goals that are set," Klinsmann said. "But I think whenever you have the chance to put your stamp on a program, you do it with everything you have, and that's what I tried to do. I think we achieved a lot within the system of U.S. Soccer, connecting a lot of dots — even though there are so many out there that are disconnected, which we know. But now it's there for the next group of leaders to continue that."
When his team lost at home to Mexico and at Costa Rica late last year, falling into an early hole in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Klinsmann was fired by the U.S. Soccer Federation on Nov. 21 after 5 1/2 years.
Klinsmann didn't appear to agree with the decision, but he understands how it was reached.
"You have to be measured against benchmarks," Klinsmann said. "You cannot lose to Costa Rica and Mexico (if) that's the benchmark. Then that's the benchmark, and you have to live with that."
Klinsmann took the U.S. job after stints in charge of the German national team and Bayern Munich. The Americans won 16 games in his first year in charge, and they later claimed the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup title and a spot in the second round of the 2014 World Cup.
But the program encountered several recent setbacks, and criticism grew for Klinsmann's style and strategy. The Americans still reached last year's Copa America semifinals before getting routed 4-0 by Argentina.
Klinsmann wryly recalled that loss, saying it was a "fair question" to ask how U.S. Soccer could accept such a blowout. Hyperbolizing, he said a team led by Lionel Messi "could have given us eight" against the best American squad.
Arena, who coached the U.S. from 1998 to 2006, opened the first training camp of his second stint this week, welcoming roughly 30 Major League Soccer-based players to a month-long camp. The U.S. resumes qualifying at home against Honduras on March 24, then plays four days later at Panama.
Arena's roster includes several players ignored by Klinsmann, who at times seemed to preferred those on European clubs. He also engaged in public clashes with popular veterans, most notably leaving Landon Donovan off the 2014 World Cup team.
Klinsmann, a World Cup champion player with West Germany in 1990, looks at his relationships with the top American players through the lens of experience now.
"I think as a player, you are kind of in a mindset where you know it always better than the coach, so you go through your career as a player and you never have the perfect coach," he said. "Later on, when you become a coach, you realize you were so wrong."
Klinsmann got a standing ovation from the audience of soccer coaches after his hour-long remarks during an interview and question-and-answer session. The coaches in attendance asked Klinsmann extensively about his technique and philosophy around numerous aspects of the job.
"As coaches, it's important to look outside and see, 'How do they do it there?'" Klinsmann said. "We are always learning. I want to encourage you to understand how a better plan can be built."
As for his unfinished work with the U.S. team, Klinsmann sounded philosophical about that, as well.
"I think we all need to be aware that we're just part of a certain timeline, and then somebody else takes over and takes it to the next level in his own way," he said. "But a lot has been done in the last five years which I've been really proud of."