By Larry Fine
(Reuters) - Juergen Klinsmann insisted to the bitter end that he could turn around U.S. soccer fortunes but on Monday was handed one of his biggest defeats when he was dismissed as national coach and technical director.
A giant of German soccer as a World Cup winning-player and a coach who led them to the semi-finals in 2006 when they hosted the tournament, Klinsmann was shown the exit before fulfilling his quest to raise the U.S. team to the next level.
On the brink of his axing, Klinsmann guaranteed he could overcome a rare home loss to Mexico and a stunning 4-0 hammering at Costa Rica and steer the U.S. team through qualifying and into the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
"It's important to put this in the right perspective," he told Reuters during a recent interview in Berlin. "We lost the two opening games and played the two best teams right away. We have eight more games to get the points needed to qualify.
"This team is always capable of reacting. We'll correct this with the two games in March (against Honduras and Panama) and we'll take one game at a time from there to get our points. I'm 1,000 percent sure we'll qualify."
U.S. Soccer Federation chief Sunil Gulati is also confident the United States will qualify for the World Cup, but with a different coach at the helm.
"While we remain confident that we have quality players to help us advance to Russia 2018, the form and growth of the team up to this point left us convinced that we need to go in a different direction," Gulati said in a statement.
Klinsmann promised a younger, more skilled U.S. team going forward after he replaced Bob Bradley in 2011, but despite some high points, the inconsistency of the programme and the recent lows cost him his job.
The 52-year-old Klinsmann compiled a 55-27-16 record during his tenure, and in 2013 he led the team on a 12-game winning streak, the longest in programme history.
The 16 victories and .761 winning percentage in 2013 are all-time U.S. men's team records for a calendar year.
In 2014, the team advanced out of the “Group of Death” and reached the Round of 16 in the World Cup. Most recently, the team finished fourth in the 2016 Copa America Centenario held in the United States.
Klinsmann called the U.S. team's wins against Costa Rica, Paraguay and Ecuador at the Copa America to reach the last four a seminal moment for U.S. soccer.
"We had a maturing process at the Copa America that was outstanding," he told Reuters. "We wanted to have younger players becoming more powerful and confident and got that."
Klinsmann brought impressive credentials to the U.S. job.
As a player, Klinsmann was a top striker in a 17-year career with stints in four major European leagues and on fabled clubs including Inter Milan, Tottenham Hotspur and Bayern Munich.
He made 108 appearances for Germany and scored 47 goals, including 11 goals from three World Cups (1990, 1994 and 1998), and played on Germany's European championship-winning team in 1996.
Klinsmann retired in 1998 and moved to the United States, settling in California with his wife and two children.
Six years later, he took over as coach of the German national team and led them to a third-place finish in the 2006 World Cup. Klinsmann compiled a 20-8-6 record in charge.
He went on to coach Bayern Munich, but lasted less than a full season after falling out of favor with management and worked as a consultant after that before landing the U.S. job.
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)