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America needed a maverick. Now 10 weeks away from the FIFA World Cup in Brazil this summer, it's time for the maverick to keep on doing what he does best. Jurgen Klinsmann, hired in the summer of 2011 to take the U.S. men's national team to realms previously unreached, is the personality the U.S. needed.
Klinsmann's hiring brought promises of evolution of American soccer. It was looked at as a move to advance the U.S.'s young, attack-minded players and increase the involvement of Major League Soccer. But for all the successes and marquee wins, the impact of the Klinsmann Era remains a relative unknown in the lead-up to the World Cup. Nothing is concrete until the U.S. plays a World Cup match.
Klinsmann isn't a pure nonconformist, but he does things his way. He's outspoken and honest about players' form and club movement, and has provided a difficult slate for the U.S. in preparing for their June trek to Brazil.
The U.S. started off a bit shaky in the opening months under Klinsmann, but rebounded in 2012 and 2013. The Americans had their best calendar year ever in 2012, and won 12 consecutive international matches in 2013. Promised improvement across the board was one of main sells to the U.S. and its fan base when Klinsmann was hired. He's experimented with new lineups, tactics, formations, several new players from all across the globe (and MLS) and contends that almost every seat on the plane to Brazil is up for grabs.
"Everyone knows the clock is ticking and that they need to impress in those games with their club, and the only way you can impress is if you play from the beginning on," Klinsmann said in a Q&A with U.S. Soccer.
Real Salt Lake has been noticed for its continued successes. Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando, Luis Gil and Tony Beltran were called up for Klinsmann's friendly against Mexico, the final tune-up before the World Cup camp is announced in May. Klinsmann said he will call in more players than he'll take to Brazil, breeding even more competitiveness as time dwindles down.
Klinsmann's hiring was a strong move by the U.S. Soccer Federation, and a time of reckoning for all the chatter about improved results on a World Cup stage is fast approaching. This World Cup, SI's Brian Straus noted earlier this week on ESPN 700, will be one of the more scrutinized group stages in U.S. history.
But that's what the country wants, and that's what Klinsmann wants.
The draw with Ghana, Portugal and Germany helps, too. This could be the World Cup that one-ups 2002, maybe not in terms of advancement, but in becoming the summer that America took total notice of its national team. It's simultaneously the most-difficult and most-intriguing group-stage draw in U.S. history.
And the fascinating guy leading the charge will have his chance to show what all the hype was about.