FIFA displays little regard for athletes with Confederations Cup schedule.By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service
(Monday, August 2, 1999) -- World soccer governing body FIFA has shown no concern about athletes in the first Confederations Cup.
It's a stretch to have players participate in two matches a week, given the amount of energy involved in the sport. And this says nothing about the high-altitude and polluted-air conditions in Mexico. But FIFA flunked even that limit with absurd scheduling that will result in four matches for the United States in seven days, including the third-place contest Tuesday.
We don't want this to sound like sour grapes and an excuse for the 1-0 semifinal loss to Mexico in overtime Sunday. But it was the third pressure game in five days -- the others were against no less than Brazil and Germany -- for the Americans.
We have no qualms with Bruce Arena's team having to travel to Mexico City from Guadalajara for the match while Mexico stayed home. Nor with the fact that the home team had an extra day's rest. First-round games can't all be played the same day. Nor with the team groupings that had Mexico in a bracket with weak sisters Bolivia, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. After all, given France '98, the United States probably belonged in that category. Not any more, however, but that's a subject for a future column.
We do, however, strongly object to having the third match Friday (one day's rest), and the semifinals Sunday (one day's rest). Couldn't the tournament have been extended to run a full two weeks rather than a week and a half? The four World Cup semifinalists will play seven matches in a month including championship or third-place games. The Confederations Cup has teams play five in 12 days. The arithmetic doesn't add up.
Perhaps FIFA should have enlarged rosters to 30 players. Would the United States have beaten Mexico with normal scheduling? Who knows. The two teams are even -- but they certainly weren't Sunday as too many Americans were fatigued. Mexico deserved the victory based on the day's play. But fans were cheated out of a top-quality match.
Speaking of fans, many were unable to see the game. It was on pay-television, but few cable operators bothered to show it.
The United States Soccer Federation professes a need to promote the national team more, and what better way of doing it than having the U.S. games shown on television?
We don't mind the pay-TV aspects -- for now, that is -- but the Confederations Cup matches weren't even available in that mode for large portions of the nation.
Soccer is never going to grow significantly in this country without a more enlightened attitude on television. We know more than a few fans who got word of the game during periodic 10-minute updates on web sites, chronicled by reporters able to see the action on television. That's even less-advanced than the old radio play-by-play of road games recreated by baseball announcers reading off the Western Union ticker.
Jorge Campos, the most important personality in Major League Soccer the first two years, who put fannies in the seats, continues to sparkle as goalkeeper for Mexico. He has been the starter the last two World Cups-- and doesn't show any sign of slowing down.
Kasey Keller was "Man of the Match" for three world-class saves, but none was more important than the brilliant, courageous sliding stop made by Campos on Ernie Stewart in the 53rd minute Sunday.
Will he ever return to MLS? Some coaches were turned off by his style of goalkeeping; he frequently strayed off the line, and occasionally was beaten by long-distance lobs or chips. Others didn't like his attitude, terming him temperamental.
His 5-foot-8 height is seen as a liability for a position that usually employs 6-footers. And some don't think the goalkeeper position, especially occupying a foreign slot, justifies maximum MLS salary such as Campos was drawing.
OK. OK. OK. OK. But we'd still like to see him in Major League Soccer, which
has very, very few personalities.
Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at
Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.