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It Seems To Me . . .

What To Make Of Mr. Motta.

By Robert Wagman
Special to SoccerTimes

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Wednesday, August 26, 1998) -- To me the most interesting piece of soccer news last week was not the election of Dr. Bob Contiguglia as president of the United States Soccer Federation, but the defeat of Major League Soccer deputy commissioner Sunil Gulati who was trying to add the position of U.S. Soccer executive vice president to his already crowded resume.

John Motta, a New Hampshire businessman and an official of the New Hampshire Soccer Association, defeated Gulati by eleven votes: 372 (50.8 percent) to 361 (49.2 percent).

In a telephone press conference following his election in Maui, (just an aside . . . do you think we will ever see a U.S. Soccer convention held in say, Cleveland?) Motta said that he believes his business acumen will serve U.S. Soccer well. He then cited his ownership of a chain of donut shops.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a very large supporter of Dunkin’ Donuts (and after 25 years of covering New Hampshire political primaries I would guess I have patronized all five of Mr. Motta’s). And, I guess, donuts are important to soccer, especially as after game snacks for the under-8 crowd. But what does this election portend for a sport that domestically wants to be spoken of in the same breath as football and basketball, and internationally wants to be accepted as one of soccer’s movers and shakers.

Maybe I am being unfair here. Maybe Mr. Motta’s business experience, and his experience as a part owner of the New Hampshire Phantoms, will prepare him to help wring the last dollar possible out of Nike and IMG. Maybe he will afford U.S. Soccer the best possible representation in the halls of FIFA and across the table from the representatives of German and Italian and Spanish federations.

But I’m not convinced. In truth, I have never met the man. My only exposure to how he thinks is a quote in The Washington Post, part of a long front-page article on how parental competitiveness is driving youth soccer, even in the youngest age groups (seven and under). One state organization, Massachusetts, has responded by banning trophies being awarded in 10-and-under tournaments, and have forbidden Massachusetts youth teams from competing in out-of-state tournaments that do award trophies.

This means that youth tournaments in neighboring states like New Hampshire have had to comply or risk losing the participation of Massachusetts’ teams. The Post asked for Motta’s comment in his capacity as president of New Hampshire Youth Soccer. According to the Post reporter, upon hearing the question, Motta "erupted with a frustrated critique of childhood in general."

"Instead of getting kids ready for the real world we’re giving them pacifiers," Motta sputtered. "We’re saying we have to protect them . . . (but) life is survival. If we don’t plant the seeds at 9 or 10, how are these kids going to make it?"

Yep, we got to get the six- and seven-year-olds knowing the difference between winning and losing so they can have developed a killer instinct by nine or 10. Oh good, we’ve elected General Patton as U.S. Soccer’s number two.

Some observers believe that Mr. Motta’s election was a reaction to Gulati’s trying to assume too many responsibilities. Others say it was a reaction to U.S. Soccer, the organization, becoming too controlled by, and focused on, the professional game. Actually I think this election does point up something more fundamental than the debate over competitive parents. Mr. Motta comes to his position out of a background of youth soccer, as does Dr. Contiguglia for that matter. Yet these men stand to become the spokesmen for soccer in this country, and to control our national team. Also, it appears that many in U.S. Soccer have not reconciled themselves to what role the professional game should play in the organization.

In most countries around the world the national team program is run by the professional leagues. Few countries have national associations whose concern is soccer in all its forms at every level and age. In those countries who have such broad-based national organizations, special committees have been established to run the national team program. Those committees are dominated by the professional leagues.

I believe that the new administration of U.S. Soccer must take a lower profile. MLS commissioner Doug Logan should become the spokesman not only for his league but for professional soccer in general. He should step forward to become the public face of soccer here. If Commissioner Logan is not comfortable in that role, MLS has a new owner in San Jose who is.

Bob Wagman wrote a nationally syndicated political column for ScrippsHoward for many years. At the same time he has covered soccer in North America for British and South African newspapers since the days of the North American Soccer League. His "Football In America" column now appears regularly in British newspapers. He can be e-mailed at MobileWag@aol.com.