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It Seems To Me . . .

Odd timing for U.S.-Jamaica friendly.

By Robert Wagman

WASHINGTON, (Thursday, July 1, 1999) -- In case you've missed it, United States Soccer Federation has kind of announced a men's international friendly against Jamaica, to be held in Kingston on September 8.

While a match in Kingston fits into U.S. coach Bruce Arena's desire to begin testing his team in hostile environments (although the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., and Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego have been hostile enough), the scheduling of this match seems strange. It also seems guaranteed to make Major League Soccer more than a little unhappy.

The match was announced when a reporter asked U.S. Soccer chief operating officer Tom King about upcoming matches. He revealed the Jamaican match saying it has been scheduled for some time but had not been revealed. He called it the "stealth" match.

Basically, by scheduling the match in early September, both the U.S. and Jamaica realized it would basically be a reserve squad match. Neither country would likely be able to call in their European-based players. Arena acknowledged this when he told a reporter he would use the match to look at "younger" MLS players who so far have little or no international experience.

But while a young MLS player with no international experience may, at this point, be a national team wannabe, he is also likely to be a key regular on his MLS team. Examples are players like D.C. United's Ben Olsen, the Chicago Fire's Josh Wolff and the Dallas Burn's Jason Kreis. Their coaches cannot be pleased with the scheduling of this match.

U.S. Soccer is saying that the match is being held on a Wednesday night to "minimize" conflicts with MLS. But early September is an unusually busy time for MLS. Specifically, on Sunday, September 5, Chicago plays the MetroStars. Then, the day before the Kingston match, two MLS teams, the Kansas City Wizards and New England Revolution play a rare Tuesday night ESPN match. Then only two days after the Jamaica match, four teams - D.C. United, Kansas City, the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Colorado Rapids play Friday matches.

If all this were not bad enough, the U.S. Open Cup final is scheduled for Tuesday, September 14. The two Open Cup semi-final matches have not been scheduled, but it is possible that one or both might have to be held the same week as the international friendly.

What is particularly strange about the scheduling of a match mid-week in September, with MLS playing full schedules the weekend before and the weekend after, is that, at best, the earliest Arena will be able to assemble a team will be on the Monday before the match. They it will have to travel to Kingston on Tuesday to play on Wednesday, so there will be little time to organize the squad and, logically, only limited benefit in terms of looking at players.

A number of you have written and asked details of the FIFA World Club championship, and asking if D.C, United, the Chicago Fire or whoever wins the MLS title this year will be invited. The answer is no.

Eight club teams will compete in this inaugural, essentially made-for-television, tournament. It will take place in Brazil, from January 5-14. Venues have not been selected, but the assumption is the matches will be split between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.

Already set for the field are Englandís Manchester United, the 1999 European champion; Brazil's Vasco da Gama, the 1998 Libertadores Cup winner; Corinthians, the hosts and 1998 Brazilian league champions; Saudi Arabia's Al-Nasar as 1998 Asian Super Cup winner; and Spain's Real Madrid, the 1998 Toyota Cup winner.

That leaves three openings -- one from Africa, one from Oceania and one from CONCACAF, the governing body of North America, Central America and the Carribean, which includes the U.S.

This year's CONCACAF club championship, which will be held in Las Vegas (of all places) the last week in September, should provide the groups rep, though there has been official statement. This is the competition that was held in Washington D.C. last year, and was won by D.C. United. This year, United, and the Chicago Fire have already qualified, and the Los Angeles Galaxy is in a playoff for a spot.

You will note I said the winner supposedly will be CONCACAF's representative to the World Club Championship. There is a lingering suspicion that the tournament organizers would like to ensure themselves of a lucrative television deal in Mexico, a big money TV market. That would be guaranteed by having a Mexican team in the tournament. So things will get interesting should an MLS team win the CONCACAF tournament again this year.

The world club tournament has caused what is fast becoming something akin to a crisis in British football. Manchester United, in order to play in Brazil, has had to withdraw from next year's F.A. Cup competition. By playing in the FIFA tournament, it will have to reschedule at least two and possibly three Premier League matches.

There are no openings on Man U.ís already full schedule to do so. So the club at first asked the British Football Association to grant it a bye into the fourth round of the F.A. Cup, so it can use the three earlier-round match dates as open dates to make up the missed Premiership matches. The F.A. said no. It offered to let Man. U. play the first three rounds with a reserve side. Man. U. said no.

So yesterday, Manchester United announced it was withdrawing from the F.A. Cup rather than defend its title. Great pressure has been put on United to play in the world club tournament. The F.A, fears that if Man. U. does not go to Brazil, FIFA will be upset and Britain runs the risk of losing any chance it has to host the 2006 World Cup.

Manchester fans, however, are up in arms, and this decision may not be final.

Robert Wagman wrote a nationally syndicated political column for Scripps-Howard 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

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