In 2004, the German National Football Team got a new coach, who came from the United States. Or, at least, that's what it felt like when former German star Jurgen Klinsmann put the squad through training.
After 17 professional seasons in Europe, Klinsmann retired in 1998. Soon after, he moved to the United States, where he eventually played one final season in 2003 for the Orange County Blue Star, a team in the fourth-tier USL Premier Development League.
When Klinsmann came back to Europe to coach the German National Team from 2004-2006, he made the blasphemous decision to ship over American help. He brought Athletes' Performance founder and president Mark Verstegen onto his coaching staff, and for the 2006 World Cup, he used Verstegen's American-based company to train his team.
"In America, there's a different fitness approach applied to the player," says Jens Lehmann, the first-choice goalkeeper of the 2006 German World Cup team. "Americans are really, really strong."
Lehmann remembers the German team being met with a method of fitness they had not experienced before. The Athletes' Performance trainers worked with football, basketball, baseball and hockey stars back in the United States. They challenged the German players to improve their strength.
U.S. soccer was not a threat to Europe's powers in 2006. The U.S. National Team still has a way to go to compete for a World Cup title, but it has come a long way since 2006. A quarterfinal appearance at the 2002 World Cup was a surprise and a group stage exit in 2006 did not validate the performance.
However, two straight World Cup knockout stage appearances, increased individual success on European club teams and a strengthening MLS have boosted the U.S. profile in the soccer world.
Having Klinsmann, the 1994 German Footballer of the Year, on the sidelines as coach, also helps (Klinsmann introduced Athletes' Performance to the USMNT in 2011).
Lehmann was in the U.S. this week to promote Fox Sports as Bundesliga's global broadcasting partner in the 2015-16 in the United States and elsewhere. Along with Lothar Matthäus, Lehmann is traveling from New York City to Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore from Aug. 11 to Aug. 16, as part of the Bundesliga Legends Tour.
One decade after Klinsmann brought the Athletes' Performance staff to Germany, Lehmann sees Americans using their strength to their advantage.
"They're strong and great athletes," he says. "Now, they just need to learn about the technical aspects of the game to mix in with that."
Along with the national team, Lehmann spent his 23-year career with Schalke 04, AC Milan, Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal and VfB Stuttgart. While with Arsenal, Lehmann played with Ballon d'Or winner Thierry Henry. Henry's 2010 move to the MLS' New York Red Bulls made him the second mega-name to move from Europe to the U.S. after David Beckham.
Beckham, Henry and subsequent stars have helped both raise the public image of MLS and the level of play. When asked if the MLS could compete with European leagues in the future, he tipped his cap to the the American league.
"Of course it can," he said. "It depends on the behavior of supporters. If they accept the league, it has a chance to grow and compete. If people around the world love the sport, why not in the U.S.?"
In its 19th season in 2014, MLS set an attendance record with an average of 19,149 fans per game.
One way Lehmann sees even more U.S. fans catching onto soccer is by watching the game in European leagues such as the Bundesliga.
"I feel good that they will appreciate it," Lehmann says. "They can see a different pace in Europe. [The Bundesliga] is a great product and the excitement is quite big. Also, the [disparity] is not big. Any team can beat any other team. There's depth. Americans will like that."
Fox International Channels' partnership with DFL Deutsche Fußball was officially announced on August 1. The season kick-off match between Bayern Munich and Hamburger SV on Aug. 14 will be broadcasted around the world on Fox Sports. The deal includes 80 countries and territories on four continents and gives Fox the rights to all 306 Bundesliga matches in each of the contract's five seasons.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.