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Jerry's World

C team tie with Jamaica has a good feel to it.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Monday, September 13, 1999) -- Bruce Arena has proved he can win with both "A" and "B" national teams. And now the "C" team has come through with a 2-2 draw in Jamaica, where the host country has a 41-match unbeaten string.

D.C. United coach Thomas Rongen, upset at losing four players, questioned the timing and value of the game. He was especially concerned about the physical status of Eddie Pope and Ben Olsen. The oft-injured Pope was hurt again during the match but isn't expected to be out long.

We think the United States Soccer Federation is correct in scheduling as many games as possible in Arena's search for new talent to test against international competition -- as long as it doesn't significantly disrupt MLS.

And the midweek game had little effect on Major League Soccer. The playoff teams in the West Conference basically have been settled for weeks, and only three players from East Conference contenders for the third and fourth playoff slots Tampa Bay and Miami participated, and none from fifth-place New England.

What particularly was satisfying about the result in Jamaica was that this was a U.S. team that had seven players making their international debuts. We remember the two draws the two countries played in qualifying leading up to the 1998 World Cup -- the Americans fortunate to escape 0-0 in Jamaica, and the horrible 1-1 tie in Washington.

The U.S. performance against what was close to an "A" team for Jamaica was another endorsement for Major League Soccer, with 18 of the 19 players on the roster active in MLS. We say "C" team, but at least four veterans -- defender Pope, midfielders Eddie Lewis and Olsen and forward Brian McBride -- could be starters in 2002.

The game was not televised to the United States. Which allows us to segue to a response made by U.S. Soccer chief marketing officer Mark Noonan to a complaining fan about lack of TV coverage. He repeated secretary general Hank Steinbrecher's declarations about lack of viewership inhibiting sponsors . . . not having control of the rights for FIFA and CONCACAF events . . . and said U.S. Soccer has invested $3 million or more than 10 percent of its budget to present 19 U.S. national team matches in 1999.

He said the Confederations Cup "was shown live on pay-per-view" but did not say that this was to just three cable systems (two in southern California, one in northern Virginia) as well as to Echo Star Communications Dish Network and National Programming Service -- representing a potential audience of less than five million.

That's the main complaint of soccer fans who want to know who was at fault -- FIFA marketing agent ISL, cable systems, U.S. Soccer, the soccer audience itself? -- for the games not being available nationwide on pay-TV.

The next big controversy could be the CONCACAF Gold Cup, scheduled February 12-27 in Miami, San Diego, and Los Angeles, and involving an attractive 12-team field.

"We are working on getting the Gold Cup on television," Noonan said. "However, we do not own the rights, and it will be a very difficult negotiation. Rest assured, it is a priority for us."

But please, let there by a Plan B fallback -- nationwide pay-TV for same-time broadcast at a reasonable price.

Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at jlangdon@gns.gannett.com.

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