Different strokes

405327.jpg

Different strokes

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com Staff Reporter Follow @mary_paoletti
I was at Gillette Stadium Wednesday.

Not for football, but ftbol. Manchester United vs. New England Revolution.

It was an unlikely draw for me. I know next to nothing about soccer. I might be the only kid in my hometown who didn't play pee wee. I only watched the rivalry games during high school. And I saw UConn live just once, when the Big East championship was on the line.

I remember that 2,511 fans was considered "raucous."

Over 51,000 gathered for the 2011 World Football Challenge. The home of the Patriots initially appeared unchanged. A familiar wave of red, white and blue apparel rolled through the concourse and broke at each concession stand. But a few details were off. Fans draped allegiances around their necks that July night with colorful scarves. The names on jerseys were disorienting: Giggs, Macheda, Ferdinand, Berbatov, Rooney . . . wait.

Rooney. He's the crazy redhead on England's World Cup team. I know that name!

And that was it.

"I feel like a fraud," I mumbled.

Traffic foiled my plans to go home and change after work. My floral dress labeled me lost; my bright yellow cardigan screamed it. I went to the game -- my first Revolution experience -- to see Manchester United. Though disconnected from that region of the sports world, I've realized through incidental contact that Man U deserves respect. At some point, a SportsCenter highlight or my Sports Illustrated subscription told me this is a good team, a really good team.

The Reds won their 19th Premier League title in May to become the most successful club in English football history. Even with the compete level ratcheted down to "friendly," an opportunity to see them live in the U.S. was irresistible. The team's roster is consistently stocked with global talent, the best from England, Denmark, Senegal, Yugoslavia, Brazil, Ireland, South Korea, Bulgaria. United's glamor stopped me short when I saw a team jersey, "C. Ronaldo" stitched across the back.

"Ronaldo? Like, Cristiano Ronaldo?" I asked, stupidly proud at identifying one of the biggest names in sports. "Isn't he the captain of Team Portugal? Why did he play in the English Premier League?"

Answer: If you can, you will.

My interest in understanding why was enough to ignore the rain for a few hours.

You know what I learned? Friendly matches are weird.

I expected Man U to be booed during introductions. That's the standard. You turn your back as the roster is read, pretend to read a newspaper, scream 'SUCKS' after every name, or just . . . boo. That's the sports reality I've lived. Had I done any of that last night, I would have looked like a raging jerk. The Reds had more popular players than the Revs. Rooney turned out to be the Even-I-Know-That-Guy player for all 51,000 and received the heartiest roar of the night. The first good chance on goal, created by Man U, made the crowd in Foxboro go wild.

It made me wonder.

Are they really trying?

New England was supposed to get crushed. Just demolished. "Like if the Red Sox starters played Portland," a co-worker guessed.

So how hard was United pushing? Nobody likes to lose, I know that. I can just imagine the pregame pressers: "We're taking this seriously," Macheberbanand or whoever would say. "We want to win just like any other match." Yeah, okay. I'll buy that.

But on a scale of "We Showed Up" to "Liverpool is in Town," where did United's effort fall Wednesday night?

I felt silly to have no idea.

My brain went into hyperdrive when the halftime score showed nil-nil.

Are the Revs really excited right now? Is Sir Alex Ferguson bawling out his team on the other side? Or is Man U just toying with our innocent MLS babes? Will the Premier League's champion take the gloves off and enact second-half slaughter? Is the offsides rule similar to the NHL's? How do they play without red lines? Are there zones? What language am I hearing from the fans behind me? Is it Bulgarian? Does "wanker" mean what I think it means?

The reason soccer fascinates me might be the reason why so many Americans hate it.

I don't know what the hell I'm watching.

The major sports in this country are littered with measurable points of success and failure. A baseball player gets on first base -- that's good. That guy reaches second and he's in scoring position -- even better. A football player gains a first down -- that's good. He gets tackled for a loss -- that's bad. A spectator can quickly run a mental gamut on what it will take for his team to score or the opposition to prevent the score. There are several, small wins and losses -- a 3-pointer in hoops, 40 shots on goal saved in hockey -- to react to in these games that it's easy to stay engaged. And it satisfies that yen for instant gratification.

But ftbol?

"Sometimes in soccer you have to move back to go forward," I was told last night.

There are people out there, many who were at last night's match, who reveled in their ignorance as I did. Those people gleefully annoyed the crap out of friends by asking stupid questions. As I did.

Why did that play break down? Was No. 17 being lazy, or was that play too tough to make? What differences in skill between teams am I not seeing? How long can the keeper hold the ball before he has to get rid of it? Can he pick the ball up if a teammate passes back to him? Does David Beckham still play in the U.S.? Is he a total wanker in person? He seems like he would be.

The Revs lost 4-1.

Don't call me a convert but I had a good time. And in sports? That's what I'm looking for.

Mary Paoletti can be reached at mpaoletti@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

Jurgen Klinsmann fired as coach of United States soccer team

usa_jurgen_klinsmann_112116.jpg

Jurgen Klinsmann fired as coach of United States soccer team

NEW YORK - Jurgen Klinsmann was fired as coach of the U.S. soccer team Monday, six days after a 4-0 loss at Costa Rica dropped the Americans to 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying.

Los Angeles Galaxy coach Bruce Arena is the favorite to succeed Klinsmann, and his hiring could be announced as early as Tuesday. Arena coached the national team from 1998 to 2006.

Qualifying resumes when the U.S. hosts Honduras on March 24 and plays four days later at Panama.

"While we remain confident that we have quality players to help us advance to Russia 2018, the form and growth of the team up to this point left us convinced that we need to go in a different direction," U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said in a statement. "With the next qualifying match in late March, we have several months to refocus the group and determine the best way forward to ensure a successful journey to qualify for our eighth consecutive World Cup."

A former German star forward who has lived mostly in Southern California since retiring as a player in 1998, Klinsmann replaced Bob Bradley in July 2011 and led the team to the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup title and the second round of the 2014 World Cup, where the Americans lost to Belgium in extra time.

The USSF announced in December 2013 a four-year contract extension through 2018, but the successful World Cup was followed by poor performances. The U.S. was knocked out by Jamaica in last year's Gold Cup semifinals and lost to Mexico in a playoff for a Confederations Cup berth. The team rebounded to reach this year's Copa America semifinals before losing to Argentina 4-0. But this month Mexico beat the Americans 2-1 at Columbus, Ohio, in the first home qualifying loss for the U.S. since 2001.

And last week, the Americans were routed in Costa Rica, their largest margin of defeat in qualifying since 1980. They dropped to 0-2 for the first time in the hexagonal, as the final round of World Cup qualifying in North and Central America and the Caribbean is known.

While there is time to recover, given the top three teams qualify for the 2018 tournament in Russia and the fourth-place finisher advances to a playoff against Asia's No. 5 team, players seemed confused by Klinsmann's tactics, such as a 3-4-1-2 formation used at the start against the Mexicans.

"Today we made the difficult decision of parting ways with Jurgen Klinsmann," Gulati said. "There were considerable achievements along the way ... but there were also lesser publicized efforts behind the scenes. He challenged everyone in the U.S. Soccer community to think about things in new ways, and thanks to his efforts we have grown as an organization and expect there will be benefits from his work for years to come."

The U.S. had not changed coaches in the middle of qualifying since the USSF made the position a full-time job and hired Bob Gansler in 1989 to replace Lothar Osiander, who also at the time was a waiter at a San Francisco restaurant.

Klinsmann made controversial decisions, such as dropping Landon Donovan from the 2014 World Cup roster while taking along relatively inexperienced players such as John Brooks, Julian Green and DeAndre Yedlin. Brooks and Green were among five German-Americans on the 23-man U.S. World Cup roster, which drew criticism from some in the American soccer community.

He coached the team to a 55-27-16 record, including a U.S.-record 12-game winning streak and victories in exhibitions at Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. He has worked in the past year to integrate more young players into the lineup, such as teen midfield sensation Christian Pulisic, Bobby Wood and Jordan Morris.

Arena, a 65-year-old wisecracking Brooklynite known for blunt talk, was inducted into the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2010. He coached the University of Virginia from 1978-95, then coached D.C. United to titles in Major League Soccer's first two seasons before losing in the 1998 final. As U.S. coach, he led the Americans to the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals in the team's best finish since 1930.

He was let go after the team's first-round elimination in 2006. Gulati unsuccessfully courted Klinsmann, who won the 1990 World Cup with West Germany and the 1996 European Championship with Germany, then coached his nation to the 2006 World Cup semifinals.

When Gulati and Klinsmann couldn't reach an agreement, the USSF hired Bradley, who coached the team to the second round of the 2010 World Cup. A year later, the Americans stumbled in the Gold Cup, and Klinsmann replaced Bradley.

Arena coached the New York Red Bulls of MLS from July 2006 to November 2007, then was hired the following August by the Galaxy. He led the team to MLS titles in 2011, '12 and '14.