PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil — Do not be fooled by Jurgen Klinsmann's blond good looks, easy smile or boundless enthusiasm.
When it comes to winning, he's as ruthless as it comes. He will contradict himself, snub revered players without a second thought and play mind games with the finesse of a chess grandmaster if it will help his team.
None of this is a bad thing, mind you. Quite the contrary.
The soccer world is seeing the U.S. in a different light these days, and it's not all because of the frenzy back home or eye-opening results like that first-ever victory over Italy in 2012 and come-from-behind win over Bosnia-Herzegovina last year.
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The Americans now carry some serious street cred thanks to the guy who is pacing in front of their bench.
"The confidence and the exuberance, absolutely. And the experience," U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said. "When you walk into a room and you've got a guy with a World Cup medal around his neck, you've got to at least listen to what he says the first time."
Klinsmann is a World Cup champion, leading West Germany to the title in 1990. He also won two UEFA Cups and a Bundesliga title, and was player of the year twice in Germany and once in England.
A surprise choice to coach a struggling Germany ahead of the World Cup it would host in 2006, all he did was transform both the team and the nation with a surprising run to the semifinals.
That Klinsmann chose the U.S. when he could have had his pick of jobs would have endeared him to half the population. But the fact that he was so American made him all the more fascinating.
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Here was the European equivalent of Kobe Bryant, with rock-star status in multiple countries. But instead of living like royalty in Germany or England or Italy after he retired in 1998, he and wife Debbie decided to raise their two children near her hometown in Southern California.
Klinsmann basked in his anonymity and the freedom it gave him, throwing himself so fully into the U.S. culture that it wasn't long before he was as American as anyone born here. He even dropped the umlaut and the corresponding `e' in his first name.
"There's certainly a lot more interest in the team than there's ever been, and frankly a lot more interest in (Klinsmann) than there's ever been in any coach we've ever had," Gulati said. "He's unique in that way."
But to portray Klinsmann as soccer's version of Phil Jackson sells him short. There is cold, hard calculation beneath all that charm and charisma, making some of his more controversial decisions not as simple as they first seemed.
He was accused of being thin-skinned when he snubbed Landon Donovan, the assumption being he had long-simmering differences with the best player the U.S. has produced. But maybe Klinsmann was unflinchingly unsentimental, doing whatever it takes to win.
He's been accused of being power hungry, parlaying interest in him elsewhere into a contract extension and control the likes of which no other U.S. coach has ever had. But maybe the sweeping changes he's trying to make require a transformation of the entire national team system.
He says, more than once, that the U.S. can't win the World Cup, a realistic assessment even if it caused a firestorm back home. But then he tells his players to make sure they don't book flights home until after the final.
But whichever version of Jurgen Klinsmann you see, you cannot argue with his results so far.
The U.S. finished with its best record ever last year, including a victory in the Gold Cup. It topped World Cup qualifying in the CONCACAF region. And it, not Portugal, emerged behind Germany in what was one of the most brutal groups at the World Cup.
Now it faces Belgium in the round of 16 on Tuesday with a real chance of getting through to the quarterfinals.
"He puts all of his faith in us, and he gives all of the confidence in the world," defender Omar Gonzalez said. "We believe that we can step on the field with any team and beat them, so it definitely helps us a lot."
Whatever it takes to win. That — not what Klinsmann says or doesn't say, does or doesn't do — is what matters.