Jurgen Klinsmann smeared the sweat pouring down his face with the front of his mesh U.S. training shirt. "You play until the head coach wins," he said, smiling, to explain the extended length of a half-field game which had kept a cluster of journalists waiting in the sun.
The coaching staff – as well as others, such as former U.S. international Kyle Martino and U.S. U-17 coach Richie Williams – had played a pickup game with small nets roughly four feet across after a morning session for the U.S. national team during the second week of the January camp.
One of Klinsmann's side's goals stood out. Klinsmann propelled toward goal in his long athletic pants. A few yards from the endline, he scooped the ball over the head of the last defender. It bounced to Martin Vasquez, who stabbed it into the tiny goal.
When Klinsmann took over the U.S. national team shortly after the 2011 Gold Cup, he announced a tryout period for his assistant. Within half a year, he had chosen. Well, he'd picked two. Martin Vasquez and Andreas Herzog work on equal authority underneath Klinsmann. Additionally, Chris Woods, Everton's full time goalkeeper coach, flies in for international dates.
Klinsmann's last assistant on the international level, Joachim Low, has overseen a vibrant, exciting Germany side for half a dozen years now. So how did Klinsmann do picking his crew this time around?
For his first game in charge, a 1-1 friendly draw with Mexico on Aug. 10, Klinsmann invited Martin Vasquez, Thomas Dooley, Tab Ramos, Mike Curry (goalkeeper coach) and Mark Vestegen (fitness) along.
"A coach staff it's extremely important, like a team, that the puzzle is the right one, that the chemistry is the right one," Klinsmann said recently. "That one supplements the other one."
Ramos became the U.S. U-20 coach, and eventually Vasquez stuck. Between national team gigs, Klinsmann had coached his former club Bayern Munich for 10 months. Vasquez served as his assistant there. The two met in southern California, where Vasquez was the assistant for the LA Galaxy and then Chivas USA.
After Bayern Munich fired the pair in the wake of a heavy loss to Barcelona in the Champions League, despite a healthy league position, Vasquez took the head coaching job at Chivas USA, lasting a season and failing to make the playoffs. He was director of soccer operations of at the Real Salt Lake-Arizona academy by the time the first Mexico friendly rolled along.
"In the first few camps he brought in other coaches," Vasquez said. "Once things were in place, he decided to go with me. We have a history of working together. Maybe that had a little bit of a plus."
The choice involved more than familiarity, according to Klinsmann. As a player, Vasquez was one of only two to ever represent both Mexico and the United States (the other is current Club Tijuana fullback Edgar Castillo). The continued contacts on both sides of the border worked in Vasquez's favor.
"Martin has been part of this game here in MLS, in Mexico, in Central America a really long time," Klinsmann said. "He knows the market really well. He knows many, many coaches down in Mexico and is well connected."
With both Klinsmann and Vasquez based stateside, the former German international striker wanted a presence in Europe. Most of the best players of any nationality drift toward Europe, making it an ideal location to scout not just Americans but the best CONCACAF rival players as well.
In December 2011, Klinsmann placed a call through to former Bayern teammate Andreas Herzog, the coach of the U-21 Austria team.
"I had a good group but at this moment we lost one game," Herzog told Goal.com. "I was a little bit disappointed because the qualification was nearly over. I said, 'Yeah, Jurgen.'"
In November 2011, Austria had played Bulgaria twice in UEFA European Under-21 Championship qualifying. A 2-0 loss on Nov. 11 and a 1-1 draw days later left Austria fourth out of five teams in Group 10, with five points from five games. Only group leaders and the four second-placed teams with the best record qualified for the 2013 tournament, so Herzog knew his team's chances were minimal. He started work for the USSF on Jan. 1, 2012.
"Andy's one of the uprising coaches coming through the European ranks," Klinsmann said. "He has already coached the under-21 team from Austria very successfully. He was in line for the head coach there."
Herzog works with Matthias Hamann, the brother of former Liverpool midfielder Dietmar, scouting the players based in Europe. They prepare by the month, submitting plans to Klinsmann regarding who to watch. Klinsmann makes minor adjustments, and they fly around the continent, filing reports.
"Obviously with Andy basically running a bit our European office … gives it a new dimension," Klinsmann said. "We have people present in the Premier League, in the Bundesliga, in Italy that do work for us that has never been done before. Therefore we can monitor our players overseas, we can monitor them closely here in MLS and also closely down in Mexico, which is very important."
When the national team isn't in session, most of the work of the assistants may sound ideal to a fan: "just watch games, watch players," Vasquez said. But then they must "make a decision with the guys that are coming in, who's performing, who's in rhythm, who's 100 percent, and who can come in and help us win games." And, of course, train them in an extremely limited timeframe.
During the three-week January camp at the Home Depot Center, Vasquez led the majority of sessions. Klinsmann prefers to hang around the edges, pouncing when he sees something that bothers him.
"He's a perfectionist when it comes down to planning training sessions and to execute them," Klinsmann said of Vasquez. "That's why I give him a lot of freedom to get that satisfaction to run certain things."
Herzog doesn't mind running the group through drills, he says, but favors smaller clusters or one-on-one instructions.
"Because of the language it's easier for [Vasquez] to talk with the players," Herzog told Goal.com. "For me it's easier to talk with a little group, from face to face, about the tactical thing."
The former Werder Bremen midfielder spent a year with the LA Galaxy (which came about due to Klinsmann's friendship with Doug Hamilton, Herzog said). His English is fine, though clearly not his native language.
"Martin does a lot of the explaining," Will Bruin said. "We haven't split up too much into defense and offense, but when we have Jurgen's been with the forwards and Martin's been with the defenders and Andy goes back and forth."
By all accounts, Klinsmann let Jogi Low run most of Germany's tactical side as well.
Low's nomadic and largely uninspiring coaching career had taken him to Austria Wien by 2004 when Jurgen Klinsmann called. Low's resume included a DFB-Pokal with Stuttgart and an Austrian championship with Tirol Innsbruck. His accolades since taking over the German national team include third place at the World Cup and second in Euro 2008.
Klinsmann foresees his current assistants moving back into head management roles soon enough.
"Both are ready to be head coaches anyway," Klinsmann said. "What I need from coaches like that is that they're not just saying yes to me, that they say often no to me. That they deliberate with me on certain issues, because every one of us reads the game differently, reads a player differently. So it's important that we exchange those opinions, and at the end of the day I have to make the calls, and I will make those calls."
That's why he makes the big bucks, a cool $2.5 million a year. But, like with Germany, his support staff will influence the style, identity and overall quality of the team. Perhaps even after Klinsmann steps down.
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