With Juergen Klinsmann expected to become the new coach of the U.S. national soccer team -- the announcement is expected in a week or two -- a larger question looms: How would he change the team from World Cup also-ran to contender by 2010?
One likely way is for Klinsmann, who lives in Huntington Beach, to follow the formula he successfully used in coaching his native Germany to third place at the 2006 World Cup.
When Klinsmann took charge in 2004 Germany was in a shambles. A feeble performance at Euro 2004 in Portugal, where it failed to win a game and was ousted in the first round, left fans questioning whether the country still was capable of producing players who could have any international impact.
Klinsmann soon proved that it could.
He introduced a spate of youngsters to the national team, most noteworthy of all, forward Lukas Podolski.
Not one of them was older than 22 and every one of them contributed to Germany's exceptional World Cup run.
Even before the tournament, Klinsmann's radical approach had been lauded by other coaches, including Chelsea's Jose Mourinho. "I admire him for his courage," Mourinho said. "He's got a strong personality. He believes in young talent ... and he doesn't change his ideas just because he loses a game."
By the time Germany played eventual champion Italy in the World Cup semifinals, former German international Oliver Bierhoff, the team's manager, proclaimed that Germany had "gained respect for playing a fast, direct aggressive game and for always holding our nerve."
That is precisely what Klinsmann, if he is chosen, will demand of the U.S. team in the coming years.
To get it, he will have to reshape the American squad, retaining the best of 2006 and discarding many familiar names.
Young, attack-minded players will be sought, and if that means ditching some established starters, so be it. Klinsmann showed with Germany that he isn't afraid of making unpopular decisions.
"The yardstick is success," he said just before the World Cup.
In 2007, the U.S. has two major tournaments on its agenda, the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which it will play host to as defending champion, and the Copa America in Venezuela. The two events are in June and July and will serve as an early indication of the coach's long-range planning for South Africa 2010.
Of almost equal importance, however, is a tournament that is somewhat under the radar: the 2007 FIFA World Youth Championship, to be played in Canada, June 30 to July 22.
If, as expected, Coach Thomas Rongen's U.S. under-20 team qualifies, chances are that several players on that team will be scrutinized by Klinsmann.
In fact, the increasing depth of talent in the U.S. means that it no longer is a struggle to compile a list of 30 young players, all but one of them already professionals, who are legitimate World Cup prospects.
In every position, youngsters now are poised to challenge the veterans.
U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller, 36, still is the first choice in the nets and will remain so, especially if he leaves the Bundesliga and joins a Major League Soccer team next June when his contract expires.
Everton's Tim Howard, 27, is Keller's heir apparent, but Chivas USA's Brad Guzan, 22, and Maryland's Chris Seitz, 19, who already has caught the eye of Manchester United scouts, could push Howard hard by 2010.
Defenders such as Oguchi Onyewu, Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra will still anchor the back line, but there are half a dozen players snapping at their heels.
The U.S. is overloaded with talent in midfield, and while Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Bobby Convey and Clint Dempsey are national team fixtures, it soon might be all but impossible for Klinsmann to ignore the claims of players such as Justin Mapp, Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan, not to mention Freddy Adu, now 17.
Up front, Taylor Twellman and Brian Ching are the two forwards in the spotlight, but they could soon find it grabbed from them by two of the most exciting prospects in the U.S. -- the Chicago Fire's Chris Rolfe and the New York Red Bulls' Josmer "Jozy" Altidore.
If Klinsmann lands the U.S. coaching job, his first task will be to call players into a January camp at the Home Depot Center to prepare for games against Denmark on Jan. 20 and Mexico Feb. 7.
His roster choices should be intriguing.
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Up and comers
A selection of young U.S. players Juergen Klinsmann could call on if he were hired: