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US Soccer: The Jurgen Klinsmann Era begins

The U.S. men's national soccer team is on the field in Philadelphia.

With 17 minutes to go before his squad's exhibition game against Mexico, U.S. men's national soccer team coach Jurgen Klinsmann finished an on-field interview, walked a few yards and hugged a friend on the sidelines near the American goal.

Lanky with short-cropped blonde hair, a blue Nike polo, dark jeans and sneakers, he was instantly recognizable. In front of a throng of photographers -- and some 20 feet away from the U.S. supporter's section -- he was, in many ways, the center of attention. The photographers snapped away. Fans chanted his name.

Fitting.

Tonight's game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia -- it started at 9 p.m. on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com -- is basically meaningless. The Americans and Mexicans will ultimately gain nothing more than experience, and the result has nothing to do with World, Gold or Confederations Cup qualifying.

No, tonight's game is and was about one man: Klinsmann. The newly minted American coach, hired last month after U.S. Soccer dismissed Bob Bradley, has been widely hailed as the national team's savior; the attack-minded former World Cup winner who can make it respectable -- and eventually, great.

One thing is certain: It's a new era, whatever happens. Klinsmann represents a departure for the U.S.; the federation has stuck with American coaches in recent years. Despite more than a decade of living in California, Klinsmann doesn't qualify there.

And he certainly brings A-list credentials. He won a World Cup and a European tournament as a player, and revitalized a moribund German national team as a coach.

But the task in front of Klinsmann, whatever happens tonight, is daunting. The 2014 World Cup will be the last for many of the Americans' longtime stars, and it will be at least a few years before the U.S. develops players who fit easily into the new coach's offense-first system. At the same time, CONCACAF archrival Mexico is trotting out the best teams it's had in decades.

No, it won't be easy for Klinsmann. But it's his team now. They'll win or lose with him.

Just like before tonight's game, he stands alone.

 
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