Lothar Matthäus played in America during MLS’ infancy, around the turn of the century. Since then, he’s witnessed first-hand how the sport has changed in the United States over the past 16 years. He also played alongside Jürgen Klinsmann at Inter Milan and with the German national team.
While in Los Angeles last weekend, making a stop on the Bundesliga Legends Tour, Matthäus had a chance to pay a visit to his old colleague and friend. I caught up with Lothar over the phone when he was on his way to see Jürgen, a man he believed was still right for the USMNT job.
“I think he’s a very good national coach for the U.S. team, he has a lot of young players in the team, and he can get them this experience and he can give them the right way to go to a higher level,” Matthäus said.
Klinsmann and Matthäus have some history together. Matthäus moved to Inter Milan from Bayern Munich in 1988, and current US Men’s national team boss Jürgen Klinsmann joined the following year.
“I think they can profit from him (Klinsmann). But the people in the federation have to believe in him; they have to be behind him. They can’t win every game, but generally I think he does a good job in this position,” Matthäus said.
US fans aren’t used to tempering expectations. Christian Pulisic is US soccer’s latest savior, despite having just celebrated his 18th birthday last week.
“[Pulisic]’s a great talent, but I think you have to give a player in his age time to grow, to make the next step. Especially in Dortmund, he has a good club around him, good teammates, who can care about him and help him. I think for him and the same time for the national team it’s a plus to have him in a good competition in Germany where he can play against other great players not only in the championship but also in the training sessions where he can learn many, many things,” the 1991 FIFA World Player of the Year said.
It seems US Soccer is turning the corner, but it will be a while before the US will legitimately compete for a title on the global stage. Winning trophies in CONCACAF doesn’t equate to lasting success in the World Cup. As captain of Germany’s 1990 World Cup-winning team, he certainly knows what it takes to win at that level.
“[The US] are very close to the best standard. When I was there 16 years ago, you didn’t have the teams, you didn’t have the academies Maybe US soccer fans are dreaming of the world title but it is a long, long time away. South American countries are crazy for soccer, and European countries are crazy for soccer. They have a longer history of soccer and I think you cannot catch up in just a couple of years. It needs time, and I think the people need to be happy to have a soccer team that always qualifies for the World Cup and can always play the best teams in the world,” Matthäus said.
Matthäus played for the MetroStars (now the New York Red Bulls) in the 2000 season, and has witnessed an incredible evolution in American soccer over the last 16 years.
“It was not so professional and we didn’t have the standard we’re playing today in MLS. I think every year you can learn something and can do something to build your sport better, and MLS is doing a good job now. They have good (soccer-specific) stadiums now and soccer in America will get more famous from the TV side, as they show international soccer. When I was here almost 20 years ago, maybe you could watch European soccer in a pub and now you can see it on TV. Fox Sports is doing a very good job showing the German league, and you can see the Premier League, Italian football, Spanish football, and it can motivate the kids to play soccer,” Matthäus said.
Matthäus believes the potential for growth across the sport is only now being realized. It’s something Matthäus sees when he travels to his old stomping grounds, New York.
“People like soccer, I see it when you look left and right in the playgrounds not only anymore basketball or baseball how it was 20 years ago. Now when I come to New York, I see the kids and people play soccer in Central Park. When you remember 20-25 years ago, nobody was playing soccer in Central Park and it’s nice for me to see people playing my sport. It’s arrived in America.”