SoccerWorld Cup

New ESPN U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team series provides rare access

U.S. Men’s National Team manager Jurgen Klinsmann (left) and Roger Bennett (right), ESPNFC.com senior writer and co-producer of ESPN Films’ “Inside: US Soccer March to Brazil” series, share a laugh before announcing the series during a session at SXSW confab.
U.S. Men’s National Team manager Jurgen Klinsmann (l) and Roger Bennett (r), ESPNFC.com senior writer and co-producer of ESPN Films’ “Inside: US Soccer March to Brazil” series, share a laugh before announcing the series at SXSW. (Jay Jay Nesheim/ESPN)

On Sunday, ESPN announced Inside: U.S. Soccer’s March to Brazil, a new six-episode series premiering May 13. Helmed by producers Jonathan Hock — whose credits include 30 for 30 films The Best That Never Was and Survive and Advance — and Grantland writer/broadcaster Roger Bennett, the series will give fans an inside look at the U.S. Men’s National Team in advance of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

Bennett, who interviewed U.S. Soccer coach Jurgen Klinsmann on a panel at the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas, the day the announcement was made, discusses the new project with Front Row.

What was it like working with Jurgen Klinsmann at SXSW?
So often I talk to Jurgen within the context of an upcoming game or training camp. SXSW gave us the opportunity to chat free from the constraints of short-term questions about specific players, injuries or matchups. That felt very liberating. Jurgen is a very sophisticated thinker. To be able to engage in big picture questions about his own identity, philosophy, change management, and leadership strategy was a real treat. For the audience, the sight of a German and an Englishman bonding over their shared passion for US Soccer glory must have been surreal.

What do you hope viewers will learn from the series?
Like many Americans, I witnessed the US team play for the first time during the 1994 World Cup when that gaggle of mavericks strolled onto home turf, a vision in stonewash denim. US Soccer has come so far, so fast since then in terms of organization, vision, and ambition, but one thing has not changed sufficiently — the way the team is perceived. They are almost always marketed as a collective of gutsy scrappers who aspire to be more than a sum of their parts. When you follow the squad through a World Cup cycle, you gain a sense of what a remarkable bunch of gents they truly are as well as the sacrifices they make to succeed. Together with Jon Hock, I hope to play a role in changing that by framing the distinct personalities of the squad – brilliant blokes like Tim Howard, Michael Bradley and Aron Johannsson – in the run up to the World Cup.

You’ll be doing a lot of traveling with the team for this series. Does that provide for certain challenges in producing the series?
The US Squad is a truly global business. We will be traveling to England, Holland, Germany, Cyprus, Turkey and across the States in the 100 days of shooting to capture the full spread of the American footballing diaspora. Our crew just have to travel and shoot each of the stories we encounter. Jurgen has to compare, contrast and assess their ability to make his final squad selections. Of the two, our task is much, much easier. I honestly can’t wait to document the team’s final three “Send-Off” games in San Francisco, New York and Jacksonville, Fla. before they board the plane for Brazil in June.

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