Haggerty: Why soccer will never make it in the U.S.


Haggerty: Why soccer will never make it in the U.S.

By Joe Haggerty

For the rabid soccer fan out there and is there any other kind? settling into downtown Toronto last weekend might have been the perfect setting to view the World Cup Finals after a month of build-up.

Or at least the best locale for anybody not well-heeled enough to score a plush seat next to best buddies Mick Jagger and Bill Clinton among the 85,000 spectators in South Africa.

Fans flooded bars along College Street to watch all the World Cup matches that dragged on over the last month, and colorful soccer jerseys were spotted all over downtown Toronto readying for the final match Sunday between the Netherlands and Spain.

When the game finally concluded, with Spain scoring the dramatic, game-winning goal just prior to things being pushed to penalty kicks, Toronto might have easily been mistaken for downtown Madrid or bustling Barcelona with its unabashed celebration.

Thousands of people performed their victory strut adorned in the telltale Yellow and Red hues of the traditional Spanish flag, and proud Spaniards pulled up and pointed to their jerseys in an homage to the on-field celebrations their soccer heroes engaged in during the first World Cup soccer title in Spains history.

Cars of all shapes and sizes buzzed down the street leaning down heavily on their horns while frothy fans dangled out the windows while vigorously waving flags at the crowd around them. People danced on top of other cars in wild, jubilant, victorious celebration like it was a Flamenco contest.

The sound of the vuvuzelas echoed through the streets long hours after Andres Iniesta fired a laser shot with his right leg that landed in the back of the net after bouncing precariously off the Netherlands' keeper's hand.

If you are a soccer aficionado, it probably was a pretty damned cool snapshot in time and certainly a wild scene befitting the hooligans and sing-song fanatics that have long characterized the worlds greatest soccer tourney.

But for somebody that hasn't cared about the World Cup since the first days of the hype machine this summer, hasn't found themselves wrapped up in Landon Donovan-mania, and was more stupefied than captivated by a scoreless match through nearly two hours of action, it was something bordering on a World Cup nightmare at the end of long, forgettable journey of scoreless action and flopping divers on the pitch.

The World Cup tourney produced a record 31 one-goal games of the 64 played during the soccer competition, and that spelled mass boredom for casual fans or bona fide enemies of the sport.

In case you havent guessed it by now, I am much more the latter than the former.

It was only fitting to be stuck in the middle of Ground Zero for a World Cup celebration over the weekend covering the Red SoxBlue Jays series in Toronto, because I couldn't give a damn about soccer at any level.

I'd proudly label myself an Ugly American that cannot, has not and will not get caught up in the hype of competitive soccer as entities like ESPN keep cramming it down the throats of a country that simply doesn't care.

The United States is a nation that appreciates and worships at the altar of their Big Four pro sports, and soccer will never bust into that foursome despite the protests and pleas of soccer moms everywhere.

Just look at the championship game as a prime example why soccer will never truly make it in the States.

Yellow cards were tossed out all over the field like bricks from Oz.

Every player was hitting the deck with alarming regularity as if they were gunned down by snipers upon physical contact.

But the biggest indictment of all was also the overwhelming problem with the sport: There was nothing going on.

No goals. No fights. No action that seized you by the collar of your soccer jersey and wouldnt let you go.

Instead it was simply two teams running up and down the pitch passing the ball to each other before turning it over, rinsing and repeating for a rush down the other end of the field.

Some accuse Americans of being too caught up in the scoreboard and too short-attention-spanned to truly enjoy the beauty of a well-played soccer game with all the intricacies and nuance that common, unwashed masses like myself simply can't understand.

To which I have this studied response: Meh.

Show me a 0-0 score at the end of regulation in any sport and I'll show you a crowd with glazed eyes and droopy eyelids from the severe lack of anything interesting or compelling to watch. At least in hockey theres the threat that a fight or other satisfying bit of sanctioned violence could break out to bust the monotony.

Show me a 0-0 score in soccer and Ill show you a complete waste of two hours with little to no redeeming value.

New England Revolution star Taylor Twellman did an excellent job covering the World Cup action for CSNNEs SportsNet Central over the last month as a soccer analyst, and he might have swayed some on the fence toward the dark side of enjoying soccer.

But not this guy.

There's only one way soccer would improve to barely watchable in my eyes: If, with 10 minutes to go in the game, officials released lions onto the pitch from both ends of the stadium. Or if spikes began shooting indiscriminately from the ground.

Picture the horrendous early '80s movie Flash Gordon when Flash is battling the Baron in the floating home of the Bird Men (I hope even one of you is still with me at this point), and their floor is moving back and forth while giant metal spikes jump back and forth at their feet.

Now that would be visceral drama and suspense even if neither team could muster any . . . you know . . . offense to actually reward those who watched these painfully boring, empty-calorie World Cup soccer matches.

Now if there were lions running rampant on the field that might have been something I could've thrown my support behind last weekend.

Heck, I might have even waved a flag while driving a car and beeping my horn though the streets of Toronto while yelling "Viva Spain!"

Now that's a picture that better never become reality.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

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.