Jurgen Klinsmann: soccer offers U.S. kids route 'all the way to the top'

Story highlights

  • Jurgen Klinsmann insists soccer offers U.S. kids a route "all the way to the top"
  • The German has coached the USMNT since 2011
  • Klinsmann guided his adopted country to the second round of the 2014 World Cup
  • America's Major League Soccer hopes to expand to 24 teams by 2020

(CNN)If you're an American kid thinking of fame and fortune you have a new path to help you achieve your dreams.

U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann is insistent the sport of soccer can match the superstar-making ability of traditional American powerhouses like the NFL and the NBA.
"Soccer is a real alternative now to other sports to make it all the way to the top," the German, who led the USMNT to the second round of the 2014 World Cup, told CNN.
    Soccer enjoyed an upsurge in popularity in the U.S. off the back of the team's showing in Brazil, which saw Klinsmann's team finish second in its group and suffer an agonizing extra-time defeat to Belgium in the round of 16.
    The performances of players like goalkeeper Tim Howard and team captain Clint Dempsey during the tournament made them household names in their homeland and Klinsmann hopes more players can achieve such recognition.
    Thousands of U.S. soccer fans also travelled to Brazil to support their team.
    "The United States is a very fast-growing soccer market," insisted the 50-year-old, who has coached the team since 2011 and recently signed a contract extension until 2018.
    "There is a young professional league coming up ... the youth system is getting better and better, there is a lot of education that will be done over the next years.
    "Just to be in the middle of all that with this international team is fascinating. It's something you can have a handle on and that is what I really enjoy."
    Earlier this week U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati outlined a number of changes to the federation's youth set up as it seeks to align its "technical practices with the best in the world."
    Notably U.S. Soccer is to introduce three extra age groups for its teams.
    "Beginning in the Fall of 2016, U.S. Soccer will add an Under-12 age group to the Development Academy program," said U.S. Soccer statement.
    "Also on the Academy side, the Federation will increase funding for the Academy Scholarship Program. Among other initiatives, U.S. Soccer will be augmenting Youth National Team programming by adding U-16 and U-19 National Teams."
    Prior to signing a contract with U.S. soccer, Klinsmann coached his native Germany -- guiding the country during its hosting of the 2006 World Cup -- before enduring a testing period in charge of his former club Bayern Munich.
    But he has long held affinity for the U.S., dating back to playing for Germany during the USA '94 World Cup and vacations he took prior to his appointment as the country's football coach.
    Klinsmann's wife, former model Debbie Chin, is American and the couple live in California with their two children.
    "I appreciated the culture, the laid back people, the mentality that they let you live your life the way you want to live it," he explained. "They respect you no matter what you are trying to do.
    "I ended up in Europe meeting an American girl and getting married to a wonderful American wife, and then we had to settle the family in either Europe or the U.S.
    "So step-by-step I've been through that process and ended up in the coaching world."
    However Klinsmann's tenure has not been without controversy
    The 50-year-old riled Major League Soccer (MLS) commissioner Don Garber earlier this year by suggesting Dempsey and fellow midfielder Michael Bradley had potentially damaged their careers by deciding to leave European clubs and move to MLS.
    Garber slammed Klinsmann's comments as damaging to the league -- which recently concluded its 19th season with Los Angeles Galaxy beating New England Revolution in the championship game.
    But despite the continued growth of MLS -- Garber hopes it will expand from the current 19 teams to 24 by 2020 -- Klinsmann is eager to continue America's soccer "education."
    "I think a lot of people in the United States haven't connected the dots yet," he said. "There is a lot of knowledge out there but knowledge is spread all over the place.
    "Our job will be in the next couple of years to educate parents, educate players, educate a lot of coaches out there, in order to catch up with the best in the world.
    "Going forward we want to raise the bar and we want to go further in a World Cup. But it is only possible if the foundation of it -- meaning the grassroots level, the youth level, and the after the youth system going into the pro-level -- is functioning better."