Fenway ready for soccer match

Fenway ready for soccer match

BOSTON -- It's just past noon, and fans are lining up along YawkeyWay to get into Fenway Park. First pitch is seven hours away, butthat's not really an issue because this Boston Red Sox game, like the 597 before it, is sold out.These fans are waiting to tour the ballpark, paying 12 apiece to see the Green Monster without Ted Williams or Yaz or even Daniel Navapatrolling the grass in front. In all, almost 350,000 people will passthrough the turnstiles this year without seeing a baseball game.Theoldest ballpark in the major leagues, Fenway is approaching its 100thbirthday with what could be its busiest year ever, starting on NewYear's Day with the NHL Winter Classic and continuing on Wednesdaynight with "Football at Fenway," a soccer match between European clubsGlasgow Celtic and Sporting Lisbon.In addition, there areconcerts and college and minor-league baseball games and, of course, 81regular-season Red Sox games, with the potential for more in theplayoffs."We think Fenway Park is a great place to go in thesummer with the kids," said Sam Kennedy, the Red Sox executive vicepresident and chief operating officer. "We're in the business ofselling the brand of baseball, but the soccer crowd is an opportunityfor 30,000 new people to experience Fenway Park."Since theownership group led by John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino boughtthe team in 2002, the Red Sox have given Fenway a total makeover,putting seats atop the Green Monster, turning Yawkey Way into a plazagame days and modernizing the ballpark in hundreds of other ways fromwaterproofing to wheelchair accessibility.During that span, theballclub has also won two World Series and reached the playoffs in allbut two seasons while selling out every game since May 15, 2003 -- arecord streak that reached 600 on Sunday.The success on and offthe field left them looking for other ways to expand their business.And they quickly realized that the most underutilized asset they hadwas the "lyric little bandbox of a ballpark" that was christened thesame week in 1912 that the Titanic sank."Immediately after wegot here, we recognized that there was this great facility sitting hereyear-round that we controlled and operated," said Kennedy, who alsoserves as president of the business spinoff Fenway Sports Group. "Wehave the luxury of looking at new opportunities because our corebusiness is so strong. But we never take our focus away from the corebusiness."They have tried concerts, starting with BruceSpringsteen in 2003 and also including groups like The Rolling Stonesand, next month, Aerosmith. They have brought in their minor leagueaffiliates for a "Futures at Fenway" date, hosted the Cape Cod LeagueAll-Star Game and turned the field over to the local colleges in theBaseball Beanpot.Things took off with the Winter Classic, whichused Fenway as a picturesque backdrop for the outdoor game between theBoston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers. The Red Sox added a collegehockey game between archrivals Boston College and Boston University --the two most recent NCAA champions; the rink was also opened up forpublic skating and rented out to local teams."Pulling off thatevent gave us the courage to talk about other non-baseball events,"Kennedy said recently over lunch in a restaurant that has been builtinside the ballpark's walls.This year's Red Sox schedule leftFenway empty for most of July, including a 10-game West Coast road tripthat the ballclub began on Monday night in Oakland. Kennedy spent muchof the spring trying to woo top European soccer teams to Boston, hopingto capitalize on an anticipated World Cup bump in interest.Heeventually landed Sporting and Celtic for the 19th soccer game playedon the Fenway field -- the first since Pele brought Brazil's Santos in1968 to play the Boston Beacons of the North American Soccer League.Celtic played at Fenway Park in 1931, when it was defeated by the New York Yankees of the American Soccer League.OnTuesday, the field had been laid out over the baseball diamond, withthe goals along the third-base line and in front of the baseballbullpens in right field. Sod had been placed over the infield dirt andwhere the pitcher's mound would be.More than 30,000 tickets havebeen sold for Wednesday night's match, helped by the strong draw fromthe Portuguese community around New England. Corporate sponsorshipshave also been strong, Kennedy said."It was a big risk: Socceris not Bruce Springsteen; it's not the Winter Classic," he said. "Froman artistic perspective, obviously a sellout crowd would be great. Butnot everything needs to be a sellout to be a success."-- The Associated Press

Jurgen Klinsmann fired as coach of United States soccer team


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.