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Op-Ed \ John Haydon

New U.S. era about to begin.

By John Haydon
Special to SoccerTimes

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Saturday, August 22, 1998) -- While two of the best soccer teams in America -- the MetroStars and D.C. United -- battle it out tonight at RFK Stadium, the real action will be taking place in a conference room on the beautiful island of Maui. A new era in soccer history is about to begin.

The United States Soccer Federation, which oversees the sport in America, will choose a new president to replace Alan Rothenberg, whose legendary eight-year reign ends today. Sometime in the near future, possibly this weekend, Rothenberg's successor will name the new national team coach.

The candidates to replace Rothenberg are Dr. Bob Contiguglia, a 56-year-old kidney specialist from Denver, and Larry Monaco, a 60-year-old former government lawyer from Virginia. The U.S. national team's coaching position has been vacant since Steve Sampson resigned after an 0-3 performance at the World Cup in France last month.

D.C. United coach Bruce Arena is a strong favorite to win the job. Arena, who has won five NCAA titles with Virginia and two Major League Soccer championships with United, is said to have made a big impression on Rothenberg in a recent interview. Arena's Midas touch continued this week when United officially became the best team in North America, Central America and the Caribbean by winning the CONCACAF Champions Cup. That achievement can only help Arena in his quest to get the job.

"This weekend is not a big weekend for me . . . Whatever happens, happens," Arena said. "I'm not out there trying to sell myself."

There are reports that Arena may have been offered the job with a two-year contract but is holding out for a four-year deal. "I think it's important that U.S. Soccer this weekend understands the direction they are going in terms of leadership," said Arena, shying away from questions regarding his future. "I'm not spending a lot of energy worrying about U.S. Soccer; I'm concentrating on D.C. United."

Rothenberg had wanted to name the new coach before his term ended, but reportedly key figures in the USSF hierarchy wanted the new president to have input in the decision.

Despite his successful tenure, Rothenberg had some problems. He hired attorney and friend Chuck Cale to head the World Cup program, which turned out to be a disastrous choice. FIFA, soccer's governing body, was upset when Cale dragged his feet on nailing down venue sites, and he was fired a year later. FIFA even came close to abandoning America and awarding the World Cup to Argentina.

Recently, the U.S. Olympic Committee put the USSF on probation for failing to have proper institutional controls over its members and for being in violation of the Amateur Sports Act of 1986, which states that 20 percent of a decision-making body must be composed of athletes.

Rothenberg was not always candid. He first announced that he would volunteer his time to run the 1994 World Cup but later walked away with a mind-boggling $7 million bonus. It was a slap in the face to the hundreds of unpaid volunteers who worked on the World Cup, but it was symptomatic of today's greedy times.

Rothenberg's detractors accused him of stretching his expense account and hiring a public relations firm to promote his name. In a self-serving move, he had the nerve to name MLS's championship trophy the Alan Rothenberg Trophy. (In other parts of the world, they wait for you to die before they name the hardware after you.)

Ultimately though, Rothenberg was the right man for the job. He took a sleepy organization and dragged it into the modern sports world.

John Haydon is soccer columnist for the Washington Times and can be e-mailed at haydon@twtmail.com.

Articles and opinions expressed by other columnists are not necessarily the opinion of SoccerTimes.