U.S. on right track after tough 2015: Klinsmann
By Erik Kirschbaum
ERFURT, Germany (Reuters) - Juergen Klinsmann is targeting at least four points from two games against Mexico and Costa Rica this month as the United States aim to get off to a fast start in the final round of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.
In an interview with Reuters, Klinsmann said the United States were starting to see the fruits of blooding young players into the side in an up-and-down 2015 and that the experience gained at the Copa America was invaluable.
“These first two games are huge -- we’ve got the two most difficult games right away with Mexico and Costa Rica so we want to make sure we get off on the right foot with points right away,” said Klinsmann.
"It would be great to get three points against Mexico and at least a tie in Costa Rica.
"Obviously to win both games would be awesome. It would be great to get the results to finish off a year that’s been really promising.”
The United States host Mexico on Nov. 11 at the Mapfre Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, where they have beaten the same opponents 2-0 in all four previous games. They travel to face Costa Rica four days later.
In the final CONCACAF qualifying round, the top three from a six-team group qualify for the finals in Russia, with the fourth-placed team going into a playoff against a side from the Asian confederation.
Klinsmann, who on Thursday was named the fifth honorary captain of the German national team and was lauded in a speech by Chancellor Angela Merkel, said the "magic" of playing in Columbus was that it was a true football stadium.
“Columbus is a special place for us,” Klinsmann said.
“There’s just such an aura about it with its home field advantage and a strong belief that we can always win there. There’s a lot of confidence whenever we play there.”
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The 52-year-old took over as U.S. coach in 2011 and is trying to guide the team to their eight straight World Cup finals appearance.
They had to endure a nervy fourth round of CONCACAF qualifying, which encompasses teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean, including a goalless draw against Trinidad and Tobago and a 2-0 defeat to Guatemala.
However, they overcame that difficult start to finish top of their group.
“We want some results at the finish of what has been a promising year,” he said. “We had some hiccups in 2015 but we’ve introduced some young players and we’re seeing them take over personality wise.
"That’s what you want to see as a coach, a team that moves on and gets ready for the next big stage.”
He said the Copa America had bolstered his team’s confidence and pointed to the breakout performances by John Brooks, Bobby Wood, Christian Pulisic, DeAndre Yedlin and Geoff Cameron. He added Jordan Morris and Ethan Horvath had also had strong years.
“We have hope that there will be even more younger players coming through,” he said. “There’s a lot of competition within the group. We saw a lot of younger players who made huge steps forward, and that puts some of the older guys on higher alert.”
As coach of the German national team from 2004 to 2006, Klinsmann embarked on a series of reforms that initially drew much criticism before they finished third at the 2006 World Cup on home soil.
He has had to endure another period of criticism in the United States but said their showing against the top teams at the Copa America's 100th anniversary tournament had impressed American fans.
“There will always be criticism when games are lost,” he said. "But I think people in America are understanding more and more what the international game is all about.
"People saw at the Copa America that teams like Argentina, Brazil and Columbia are the crème le la crème.
"People saw these teams play and thought ‘wow’. It was huge that we made it to the final four.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)