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Complete archive of Robert Wagman's It Seems to Me.

It Seems To Me . . .

Poor scheduling hurts soccer’s ability to gain proper public exposure.

By Robert Wagman

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Friday, May 28, 1999) -- The powers-that-be who run soccer in this country -- and I mean Major League Soccer, United States Soccer Federation and the Woman's World Cup -- all complain about the relative lack of media coverage soccer receives. That certainly is a justifiable complaint. But then you look at some of the decisions being made by those same people, and you have to wonder who’s at fault.

Let me give two very current examples.

Do people at the USSF ever talk with one another? The under-17 men’s team has qualified for the world championships in New Zealand in November. This is a squad which deserves more exposure, if for no other reason than its players will be our national team of the future, and possibly the backbone of MLS within 10 years. U.S. Soccer is to be commended for scheduling the U-17s against their British counterparts here in this country. This is an extremely attractive match-up, and one certainly worthy of media attention and coverage.

So when does U.S. Soccer schedule the match? On the most important day of the early rounds of Women's World Cup.

The U.S.-Britain U-17 match will take place in Tampa on June 27 as part of a doubleheader with an MLS match between the Mutiny and the Los Angeles Galaxy. On June 27 here in Washington, Germany is playing Brazil in what should be the best match of the opening round of the Women's World Cup. Then, that evening, the U.S. women play their critical first round match against North Korea in Boston.

This means that reporters, such as me, who would have been happy to cover the U-17s, will be running from Washington to Boston and not be able to.

Here's another example. This weekend's MLS schedule features what should be the most attractive match of the entire MLS season: D.C. United against the Chicago Fire. This is certainly the best, or potentially the best, MLS has to offer. If any match this season should be on national television this is the one. But it is not going to be televised, except back to the Chicago area.

When asked about this, MLS Commissioner Doug Logan seemed perplexed. "I'm a little flabbergasted," he said. "This is a premier match-up and will be one heck of a game."

Logan placed the blame on MLS' broadcast partners (ABC and ESPN). But isn't there anyone in the league office who could read an National Hockey League schedule? A conference playoff final has been scheduled for that night for over a year, and MLS knows that the NHL playoffs get precedent over regular season soccer matches. Doesn't anyone at the league office talk with ABC and ESPN to schedule matches that will allow for the greatest exposure.

Actually, if the two United-Fire match-ups could be expected to be among the best of the year. So why schedule both of them for the first quarter of the season? Wouldn't logic have dictated one in May-June and the other in August-September?

In some fairness to Logan and his crew at MLS, you might wonder why espn2 has scheduled midget auto racing for Saturday night. But the fact of the matter is that MLS should have used the D.C.-Chicago matches as keys to the entire season's television schedule and should have begun very early on asked ABC when it wanted the two matches. Chicago-D.C, should have been played on whatever Saturday night that would assure national network coverage.

These are but two examples of soccer squandering opportunities to put its best foot forward. MLS needs to have people see Chicago-D.C. Instead its next national game will be Kansas City-Los Angeles, two franchises struggling to find themselves.

U.S. Soccer needs to have its young fans start to identify with its best young players, not waste opportunities to do so.

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 SoccerWag1@aol.com.

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