Saturday, June 16, 2018
Sports

U.S. lacks soccer passion, and here's Exhibit A

From San Jose to Cartago to Limón, just about every eye and ear in Costa Rica was trained on Orlando on Saturday night.

The nation's soccer team was playing Paraguay in the Copa América Centenario. It was pretty much the same thing in Limpio, San Lorenzo and every town in Paraguay.

"The country stops," Emilio Lopez of Asunción said.

It's safe to say the U.S. did not stop to watch the game at Camping World Stadium, or Estadio Mundial de Camping as it was broadcast in Latin America.

It's also safe to say most Americans don't know Paraguay from Uruguay, much less that they could find either on a map.

The point is, if you care about America's standing in world soccer, you should have stopped at least long enough to see teams that play with passion. Then you should have hoped the U.S. team was taking notes.

The Copa combatants tied at 0. To guys like Lopez, it may have felt like kissing your Paraguayan sister. But to coach Jürgen Klinsmann and the U.S. team, it was a perfect evening.

The U.S. is in the same group as Colombia, Costa Rica and Paraguay. Everybody will play each other once, and two teams will advance based on points. A win is worth three, a tie is worth one and loss is worth squat.

Colombia throttled the U.S. 2-0 on Friday night. The last thing American soccer fans wanted Saturday was for either Paraguay or Costa Rica to rack up three points.

It wouldn't have killed America's chances, but it would have left Klinsmann's squad with no room for error. And the way the U.S. has been playing, errors should be anticipated.

"Klinsmann is crazy. Klinsmann is crazy," Elias Briceno said.

He traveled to Orlando from Costa Rica for the Copa. It seems Klinsmann's coaching is sports-talk fodder in all corners of the globe.

Nobody expects the U.S. to win the Copa, but failing to make it out of Group A play would turn up the heat on Klinsmann. Speaking of which, be glad you weren't on the pitch at Estadio Mundial de Camping.

"It was a wonderful show, except for the heat," Paraguay coach Ramón Ángel Díaz said. "It's crazy we played at the time we played."

It didn't seem to affect the 14,334 fans, most of whom appeared to be from Costa Rica. It was a little hard to tell since both sides wear red, white and blue. If the fans in Orlando were into it, you can imagine the scenes in towns all over Costa Rica and Paraguay.

"This is like the World Cup for us," Briceno said.

The play reflected that. It had an intensity the U.S. team lacked against Colombia. There was more jawing than a WWE match.

"Soccer is for grown men," Díaz said, "and we played with that intensity. There was a lot at stake."

There still is. Paraguay plays Colombia today and the U.S. will take on Costa Rica. You know fans in three of those countries will stop everything to watch. They know their teams will make it worth their while. U.S. fans only wish they were so fortunate.

— Orlando Sentinel (TNS)

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