Thomas Dooley is an icon of North American soccer. As a player he took part in two world championships with the USMNT, of which he was also captain, and in Germany he won a Bundesliga, a League Cup, a Super Cup and a UEFA Cup. After being assistant to Jürgen Klinsmann with The Yanks, Dooley led the Philippine National Team to qualify for the Asian Cup 2019. In this interview the hero of Usa ’94 spoke about his future, his career, MLS, USMNT and football development in Asia.
You have mixed origins, US and German, what was your first approach with the US?
I loved America. I loved the landscape, the music, the movies the cities and every time I watched the Olympics, I loved the jerseys, the flagg and the anthem… funny because I had never been there, never met my dad or anybody from the USA. I couldn’t speak language at all. It must have been in my blood.
How was your choice to be part of the USMNT born?
My dad was an American and my mom German… there was a rule in Germany, when you are born in Germany until 1971 (I guess) you are getting automatically the citizen of your dad. That means I was born as an American. Because of the situation with my dad leaving to the US and he never got back in touch with us, my mom decided that her kids should get the German citizenship. We got the German citizenship when I was nine years old.
Have you ever thought you could play with the German national team?
Yes. Three times I was very close to the German national team. I mean the media was contacting me after the games and told me I should be in the next National Team Camp! I said yes, that would be great, maybe one more good game and I will get a chance to be there. Next game we played I got an injury in my left ankle and needed a surgery. I was out for 3 month. Second time the media were talking to me, they said “Kohler and Buchwald are both injured, and you are the best CB in the league at the moment, you should be there”. In the following game I got the same injury on my right ankle and I was 3 month out again. The 3 and last time was, when Germany wanted to take a trip to Mexico and Argentina. Now they took more than 30 players to the trip. We played against Bayern Munich, I had my best game ever and the media said. “Thomas now is your last chance if you don’t make it now it’s over”. Two days later, in a friendly game in Cottbus, somebody jumped into my chest. I broke four ribs and my lung collapsed. That one was the killer and I was out.
What are your memories about Usa 94?
We had a perfect TEAM. A great unity in the team. We played together for one year like a club team. We had a great friendship among the players and we had a team where everybody was respected the same way. No different if a player was playing in the Bundesliga in Premiere league or in US College. We were like a family.
What kind of coach was Bora Milutinovic, the soccer globetrotter?
The best coach we could have had at that time. A Soccer fanatic! 24/7 football. He was funny and laughing a lot. He was always in a good mood. On the field, he knew exactly how he can bring those different quality player with different backgrounds, from different countries on one table. He built the right TEAM. He knew exactly how to build a successful TEAM. He was honest, respectful very detailed oriented coach and to us player like a close family member. What a great person he is!
In your opinion what has changed in American soccer in these over twenty years? What will be the news in 2026?
Soccer is getting more professional year by year. It is so good to see that soccer survived. MLS did an excellent job in keeping it going. Believers like Mr Anschutz and Mr Hunt are the true heroes. They both owned all teams in the beginning when it almost fall apart. Those two believed in it, stuck with it and look what happen now: Atlanta 85000 fans, 23 Teams and growing.
News in 2026? USA is back on the World Stage and better than ever.
In France World Cup 98 you were the captain of the USMNT. How did you face that challenge? What are your memories?
My memories are bad. This was maybe one of the worst TEAMS. I was involved with. No spirit no respect no focus, no organization, no discipline. Everything you need to be successful was missing. Everything. As a coach now, I analyze everything, every game. I had a lot of success in my 20-year playing and 10-year coaching. I also had some failure, like everybody does. Analyzing the games or tournaments when we were successful and the once we failed. There are two roads in life. One is the positive road and the negative road. 98 was designed to fail everything you need to have to be successful was missing. The only good thing was, it helped me, a lot, in my coaching.
If you had to choose a goalkeeper, a defender, a midfielder and a forward, what would be the best in the history of US nationality?
GK: Brad Friedel. Defender: Thomas Dooley, of course. Midfield: Claudio Reyna. Forward: Clint Dempsey.
You played for years in Bundesliga before landing in Major League Soccer. What were the differences between the European championships and those of North America?
Day and night. When I left Schalke 04 and went to the first training session in Columbus. I had a broken bone and couldn’t train with the team. I broke my fular right before we had the UEFA Cup final and I was out for the rest of the season. I still wasn’t allowed to train when I arrived in Columbus. They trained in the back of the OHIO State Stadium (horse shoe) on a uneven grass parking lot. It was pore raining before. I was sitting on a table or bench remembered the trainings facility I had in Schalke or Leverkusen and was thinking what the F… am I doing here… But when I started playing and training on the own Crew training center it was getting better and better. People in Columbus were very nice and I liked it more and more. But of course there are more stories. It was 100 degree and 90% humidity, two hour before the game we had to go onto the field and signing autographs for almost 1 hour and than playing a game. You can imagine that would never happen in the Bundesliga. It was easy to play here in the MLS. No pressure from the fans or media, and of course the speed of play was much slower than in Europe.
How do you consider your experience in MLS?
I had a great time. Perfect for me to end my playing carrier. I could play until I fell apart. I learned a lot about the country, the media and very important I learned English. English was my third language after German and French.
You played for years in Columbus. What experience was it? What effect does it make you think that maybe the teams will go to Austin? Have you joined the #SaveTheCrew campaign?
I liked the people in Columbus, I loved living there, I loved the training facility and the crew stadium. Every year we got better. We had great players in our team. I am thinking a lot about Columbus crew and still have a lot of friends in Columbus. I would love to see the crew staying in Columbus crew is Columbus and not Austin. Sad to see if they leave.
You played for a period in the Metrostars. How was that championship? How did you relate to Lothar Matthaus?
I enjoyed that too. I was going to retire, but the coach (Octavio Zambrano, ed) was calling me and asked if I could play one more year and help NY to have a good season. NY was always on the bottom of the league. They had always a good team but they didn’t fight, they just wanted to play nice and thought because it is New York they will do great. You can’t win or be successful in just playing nice. You must work hard, play hard and sometimes dirty. Hard work pays off. I decided to play one last year and my task was to bring the tough game to NY. I got the fair play award after the last season in Columbus. After playing almost 20 years and NEVER got a red card If somebody deserve the trophy it was me. But now my move to NY I wanted to set an example and a sign to the team. My first game for NY was a friendly preparation game in FL against my old team from Columbus. I think I tackled everybody who was coming into my area. In the 70 min or so I got a red card in the end of the season we won the eastern Championship and lost the semifinal in Chicago. That was my last game anding with an injury and surgery.
Lothar is a great guy. I enjoyed playing with him. In the beginning he took it to easy and thought everything goes on its own, but later the season he stepped up and everybody could see what a powerful player he was. I had a good relationship with him and I happy that I had him as a teammate.
In your opinion why has not New York won anything important in Mls?
Not the best players, the best team wins championship. Back to Bora, you need to build a perfect team spirit. A team that functioned and know perfectly what need to be done to win the games. There are two roads, and if you don’t do the thinks on the road to success you fail. Look at Germany this year. Totally clear why they failed!
Speaking of today, how do you feel the level of American soccer?
I watched a couple games this season. I don’t know about the whole season but the games I saw aren’t the most technical or tactical games. Maybe I was a the wrong time at the wrong place. The fans the stadiums are great. Development of young players getting better and better. The change in the National Team was necessary and those young players need to make mistakes now so they can grow to the time when it counts.
You can’t focus on the outcome, you have to focus on the task! Even the fastest, strongest, smartest and most skillful player will underachieve, if he concentrates on the wrong thing.
How do you think the current MLS? What changes would you bring?
I love the MLS. Who wouldn’t want to coach there. I would implement what I learned in my 20 years as a player and 10 years as a coach. Everything happens for a reason. Why are teams succeed and why they fail. It shows over and over. I would bring the team on the right road.
Which team would you like to train in MLS?
Which are the most talented players of the MLS according to your opinion?
Obviously our National Team players: I like Tyler Adams, Tim parker is tough guy. I like Zack Steffen, he is a great GK. Will Trap. I am sure there will be more, but I don’t know all the details. You know I live on the other side of the globe, but it wouldn’t take weeks to get to know everybody.
Which teams do you think can win the Mls Cup 2018?
Shortly the Usl D3 will start with promotions and relegations. Would you feel positive to introduce relegations and promotions even in Major League Soccer?
I don’t know, I guess no. Don’t change what works. We have top stadiums top fans and let more owners build stadium and teams. In the second division and lower levels I think it would be fantastic. It could be interesting and more exciting.
How important is university soccer in your opinion? Do you think that a similar system should exist in Europe too?
No I don’t think it is very important. Playing in a regular club season over a year would be much better for a development of a young player.
Historically, North American soccer is very much linked to Germany and the Scandinavian nations. In your opinion, what is due to this exchange of players?
Scandinavia is a place where US players who wouldn’t make it in the Bundesliga or English league can play and show themselves. It is easier to scout a player in Scandinavia or Belgium or Switzerland …. Those leagues are great places for a young player. Those leagues are not as strong as the rest of Europe. If there is an interesting player, scouts can go there more often and see if that is the right player for their club.
Italy is also linked to the United States. Thousands of American soldiers and their families live here. In your opinion, why has not a substantial exchange of footballers and coaches been created?
Because football isn’t that old in the US and the development as a coach doesn’t come through books it comes with experience in playing and living in a football environment. The league is only 24 years old. USA doesn’t have the same History like European or Latin Americans.
The Canadian Premier League will start next spring. Do you think this championship can help Canada grow soccer?
Any professional league will help to grow.
Unfortunately, the USMNT has not participated in the 2018 World Cup. In your opinion, what mistakes have been made?
I don’t know the insides. The road to success is always the same. Make it short. You have to create a function team where everybody works with and for each other. You need to create positive environment and focusing on the right thing! I am almost sure there was no spark.
You worked for a period with Klinsmann. Do you think it was an error to exempt him during the qualifications?
I like Jürgen and he is a good coach. Again I wasn’t there I don’t know what exactly happen. I would have kept him and let him finish it.
Who would you like to be USMNT coach?
If USSF call you to be the national team coach, what changes would you bring?
There are fantastic young players are stepping up. I will bring that team spirit back and will talk to the player about why team wins and why team loses. When they understand that it will be amazing.
France won the World Cup and exactly how twenty years ago did it thanks to a multi-ethnic team. Do you think that the recent immigration measures in the United States can damage the soccer system, whose success is also due to the Latin community?
No, I don’t thing so.
How do you think Germany’s defeat at the World Cup? Do you think that Low would have to resign?
Yes, I followed closely, and it was obviously they created the outcome. They totally went on the wrong road and did almost everything that is forcing such a failure. The responsibility in that case is the coach and the staff.
Italy like the US did not participate in the World Cup. From former player and coach, what do you think are the problems of the Italian national team?
I’m sorry, I cant say anything about that. But something was wrong and I am sure it was some of the mistakes Germany did.
You have been leading the Philippines team (Azkals) for years, managing to qualify for the continental cup. How do you consider this experience?
I am happy that the players were listen to me and believed in what I said. Focusing on the right things than we will be successful. We broke 11 records, we had a great WC qualification with 3 victories and a tie. We qualified unbeaten for Asian Cup Qualification. The experience was amazing from having 8 GK coaches in 4 years, 6 assistant coaches and no assistant coach in the last 2 years. Still we managed to be successful. I could write a book about it.
Do you think Asian football is growing? What are the perspectives on this continent?
Yes. More European clubs looking for corporations in Asia. The countries trying to starting development academies on their own or with International clubs. It will take a couple more years but the type of players you can find here are different than in the US or Europe.
The Philippines are many historically linked to the US. Could partnerships be created to bring young Filipino soccer players to the United States?
There are already millions of filipinos in the US. I am starting my academy here in the Philippines and develop players for the big achievement in 2026.
Do you think that among the players you have trained in the Philippines there is someone ready for Europe or for MLS?
We have now some players playing in Europe first divisions. Neil Etheridge playing now in the Premier League. I told him he need to be focus on playing instead sitting in the premiership team on the bank. If he thinks he is a Premiership player , show it in a lower league and you will be gone in no time. Some maybe have a chance. Sato is playing in Romania, some others are playing in Thailand or Malaysia. Their leagues are much stronger than our here.
Why are you no longer the national coach of Philippines? Would not it be better for the Federation to face the next competitions with you in command?
That is a good question. I don’t really know what happen. Strange was the question right after my contract ended if I would bring Stephan Schröck back into the national team!!!! I said no I don’t see why I should bring im in. He doesn’t follow the instructions, I play’s what an whenever he wants and we never had a great or successful game with him. ln the camps where he was there we had a negative camp. I ask the federation, give me one game in the last 4 years, where we were successful when he was a part of it. They couldn’t name one. He is favorite in the media and with the fans. I think that was the reason why they didn’t want to continue. That is ok if one door closes two other will open. You don’t need to best players, you need the best TEAM to win championships.
The MLS and the Chinese Super League are two expanding championships with two totally different economic models. Which one do you think is more winning?
China has much more money in football then the US. The government invest billions in the infra structure for football development. They want to win the World Cup soon but you can’t buy success!
What are your future projects?
Looking for a team. A team where I can bring my knowledge and experience to build another successful group.
Also will start a Philippine Football Academy where we will develop Philippine football players…Dream is World Cup qualification 2026.