Jurgen Klinsmann won a pair of international prizes in his German playing career that he would like to deliver to the U.S. Soccer program — a World Cup, of course, but also an Olympic medal.
Klinsmann, a member of the 1988 West German Olympic team that won bronze in Seoul (pictured to the right), said “the main task for 2015 definitely is the Olympic team,” according to reports citing audio distributed by U.S. Soccer.
Klinsmann coaches the U.S. Men’s National Team that’s eyeing the 2015 Gold Cup, but as U.S. Soccer’s technical director he realizes the importance of the Olympics.
The Olympic team will not be the World Cup-level senior national team, but instead at least primarily — if not wholly — members of the Under-23 team that does not currently have a full-time head coach.
The U.S. U23 team cruelly missed the 2012 Olympics, giving up a stoppage-time goal in CONCACAF qualifying to El Salvador when it was seconds away from advancing to a winner-goes-to-London match.
“We want to make sure what happened with London 2012 doesn’t happen again,” Klinsmann said.
The U.S. hasn’t won an Olympic men’s soccer medal since 1904, when only three teams competed at the St. Louis Games. Two of those three were U.S. teams.
Klinsmann’s “main task for 2015” comment is particularly interesting given the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament is not scheduled to happen in 2015, but instead in March 2016, according to this Olympic soccer qualifying procedure document.
Qualifying could be easier this time around. In 2012, CONCACAF had two berths for the Olympics. In 2016, it gets 2.5, meaning the third-place nation from the Olympic qualifying tournament will play a South American nation in a winner-goes-to-Rio match.
At the Seoul 1988 Olympics, Klinsmann was 24 years old when he scored a hat trick for West Germany to beat Zambia in the quarterfinals (highlights here). Zambia had shocked Italy 4-0 earlier in the tournament.
West Germany went on to lose to Brazil in the semifinals. Brazil’s roster included the great Romario, whose late equalizer helped force the Brazil-West Germany match to a penalty shootout. Klinsmann’s penalty kick struck the post (watch here). West Germany beat Italy in the bronze-medal match.
Two years later, Klinsmann and West Germany won the World Cup.
If the 1988 Olympics were played under today’s Olympic rules, Klinsmann might not have been on the team. The 1988 Olympics were the last Games before the 23-and-under rule was instituted.
If the U.S. qualifies for the Rio Olympics, its roster must be made up of players who will be no older than 23 in 2016 — with three exceptions for over-age players.
Nations have added stars with those exceptions — such as Ryan Giggs for Team Great Britain and Thiago Silva and Hulk for Brazil in 2012.
In 2008, the U.S. added three-time World Cup forward Brian McBride as an over-age player, two years after his retirement from the senior national team. That was before Klinsmann joined the program.
In 2016, the U.S. could put 2014 World Cup players John Brooks, Julian Green and DeAndre Yedlin on the Olympic roster without using over-age spots.