NEWS: Bruce Arena replaces Jurgen Klinsmann as U.S. National Team soccer coach.
VIEW: It’s back to the future.
Klinsmann’s ouster wasn’t unexpected in light of the U.S. team’s home loss to Mexico and trouncing in Costa Rica in the first two games of the final round of qualifying matches for the 2018 World Cup, but those two outcomes only sealed his doom. The real reason was the U.S.’s persistent failure to crack the upper echelon of the sport, a status many Americans feel is their due.
Klinsmann was supposed to have remedied that. Good-looking and charismatic, an international star as both a player and coach, the transplanted German took the job in 2011 amid high expectations. He seemingly justified them when his team won the regional Gold Cup in 2013 and in 2014 survived a tough divisional draw to make it to the round of 16 in the quadrennial World Cup, but it relapsed thereafter and never could regain its footing. Run-ins with critics over his lineup selections and training preferences (he clearly thought his players were better off playing with European clubs instead of those in Major League Soccer, the second-tier domestic league) greased the skids for his removal.
In replacing him with Arena the sport’s governing body signaled it was more concerned with salvaging the current World Cup campaign than with seeking new approaches. Arena is a competent pro who coached the team from 1998 to 2006 but was fired under pretty much the same circumstances as was Klinsmann. If Arena had any revolutionary ideas he would have tried them before.
The fact is that despite a marked upgrade over the past 20 or so years the U.S. still suffers from a talent deficit relative to that of the major world powers. In countries like Germany, Brazil and Argentina, the best athletes immediately gravitate toward soccer, while here the sport must take what’s left after basketball, baseball and football have done their culling. Until that changes no number of USA! USA! chants will change things.
NEWS: The National Collegiate Athletic Association docks Notre Dame 21 football wins.
In response to 2014 revelations that a member of the university’s athletic-training staff gave “impermissible academic benefits” (i.e., did papers and other course work) for eight football players over a two-year period, the group ordered that the school forfeit all its victories during the 2012 and 2013 seasons. The absurdity of the penalty was immediately pointed out by Brian Kelly, the team’s blustery head coach, who said, in effect, “Ha!”
“If that makes you [the NCAA, I guess] feel better, then that’s fine with me,” Kelly really said. “Putting an asterisk next to those games, that’s fine, too. We still beat Oklahoma. We still beat Wake Forest.”
He could have said as much about the rest of the sentence, a one-year probation and a $5,000 fine. The latter amount probably is less than the team spends annually on that black grease players smear under their eyes on game days.
Actually, though, the penalty was harsher than the ones (nothing) that attended two previous and much more serious incidents in a Kelly regime that began in 2009. That would be the 2010 death of a student manager who was sent up on a cherry picker in a wind storm to videotape a football practice and the suicide that same year of a woman student from nearby St. Mary’s College after her allegation of rape against a Notre Dame linebacker was deep-sixed by university authorities (the claim died with her and the player never missed a game). What the NCAA will do about the carful of Domer footballers arrested last August for speeding and marijuana and gun possession remains to be seen, or about the lineman who stomped on the leg of a fallen foe during the school’s game last week against Southern California.
Notre Dame is one of those chesty universities that likes to brag it “does things right” in combining academics with the multi-million-dollar entertainment business it conducts. In truth, it’s a prime example of the degree to which schools will prostitute themselves to maintain such an enterprise. The NCAA’s hollow penalties abet that practice.
NEWS: The National Hockey League declares that only players on league rosters can appear in its mid-season All-Star Game.
VIEW: Huh? again.
The action was dubbed the “John Scott Rule” for the journeyman player whose position (enforcer) appears in no lineup but who fans elected to last season’s game after he’d been demoted to the minor leagues by the Montreal Canadiens. The mockery that attended that selection increased when Scott not only was picked to captain one of the teams in the fest but also went on to win its MVP award.
In case you haven’t noticed, All-Star Games have become touchy affairs in sports in which injuries are rampant; both players and teams have come to conclude that the rewards the events produce don’t justify their risks. The National Football League has discussed ending its game and allows it to survive only as a pantomime of the real thing. The NHL last season changed its All-Star format to a tournament of two, 20-minute, three-on-three games matching players from each of its four divisions, followed by a same-rules final matching the winners. It ain’t real hockey but now, at least, it’ll be contested by real NHLers.