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- It Seems To Me. . .-

U.S. failure in World Cup is easy to understand -- other teams were better.

MLS ability to develop top players must be examined.

FIFA must examine World Cup policies.

Referees might have been harsh, but U.S. was not cheated against Italy.

Injuries have trashed conventional wisdom on Cup Group E.

Injuries have trashed conventional wisdom on Cup Group E.

At the World Cup, Arena chooses to do things his way.

With U.S. team in Germany, Adu makes gains at home.

MLS should lead the way by using second referee.

Arena's World Cup selections were made with a purpose.

Arena's selections for World Cup roster are fairly evident.

Arena needed to make no apology for loss to Germany.

Contiguglia presided over U.S. Soccer period of progress.

MLS business model is being eyed by European leagues.

Arena selections for Poland game give hints of World Cup roster.

Arena still doesn't get the respect he deserves.

It Seems To Me . . .

Conflicts between MLS, USSF best interests can hamper U.S. cause.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Sunday, July 9, 2006) -- Last week, there was a dustup between United States men's manager Bruce Arena and Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber after Arena suggested that perhaps playing in MLS was not the best preparation for a young player who hopes for an international career and a place on his national team.

Arena's comments illustrate a point that is all but ignored by the powers that be in American soccer -- that what is best for MLS is not always best for the U.S. Soccer Federation and its national-team programs and, conversely, what is best for U.S Soccer is not what's always best for MLS.

We tend to think of the interests of the two as being completely intertwined and absolutely co-dependent. They are not. Let's look at a couple of examples.

U.S. Soccer and the manager of the men's national team, be it Arena or whoever might succeed him should he not continue in the job, would be vastly happier if MLS played a schedule somewhat similar to what is played by most of the rest of the world with the season starting in late August or around September 1 and finishing in May. That would put MLS on the same schedule as world governing body FIFA's international calendar. It would also mean that national-team players from MLS and those based in Europe would be at about the same level of fitness at the same time and likewise would be available for matches and training on about the same basis.

Right now, there are essentially two national teams -- one with European-based players and one of MLS players. If the disappointing World Cup performance displayed one thing, it showed that this is not the best of situations.

Garber has said that when all MLS teams control their own venues, then it might be time to begin talking about changing the schedule to an August\September-May schedule from the current April-November MLS setup. Making the change would certainly benefit the national-team program and would make U.S. Soccer's life a little easier. I think this, however, would be a big mistake for MLS.

Playing through the dead of winter might be fine in Southern California and maybe in Texas, but the simple fact of the matter is few, but the most diehard fans, would sit through matches in freezing temperatures in New England, New York, Chicago and elsewhere in the league.

Then, too, most of the European leagues take extended mid-winter breaks of as long as five weeks. MLS has always taken the position that if takes even a week off, people will suddenly forget the league exists. This is why the league continues play during the World Cup, Gold Cup, etc.

I would think that it will be at least a generation, and with every match sold out, before MLS should consider a winter schedule.

On the other hand, U.S. Soccer needs to begin doing things that are not necessarily in the best interests of MLS. In talking to the national-team players in Germany during the World Cup, many raised the same issue -- that the whole team needs to play more and tougher matches in between Cups. The European nationals do so with the European Championships in the even year between every Cup. This means with the long qualifying process, European teams play together regularly and at a high level.

The U.S. is regularly invited to play in Copa America, the South American federation CONMEBOL's tournament that is competed between World Cups. The U.S. has regularly declined because it would mean taking players away from their MLS teams for up to six weeks during the season, though new USSF president Sunil Gulati recently said he would seriously consider accepting the U.S.'s standing invitation to the tournament in the future.

If MLS took the summer off, this could be easily done, but that would be disruptive to the fan base. Still, the U.S. needs to be playing in Copa regardless of whether it removes players from MLS.

There are other issues where the interests of U.S. Soccer and MLS probably diverge. MLS needs to take charge of its own referees, setting its own standards and training methods while taking responsibility for the quality of its own officiating. U.S. Soccer needs to fix its youth development system, which almost everyone agrees is broken to one degree or another.

This perhaps brings us full circle to the issue that started this discussion. It is probably in the best interests of U.S. Soccer to steer the best young players coming out of its development program to teams in Europe. Obviously, MLS would hope to sign these players itself.

This whole subject of what's best for U.S. Soccer and national-team programs versus what's best for MLS needs close examination. Whether that will happen remains to be seen. The fact that Gulati, the USSF president is also president of Kraft Soccer, the owner-operator of MLS's New England Revolution, does not lend itself to long introspective looks at such conflicts. However, it is quite obvious that what's best for one is not necessarily the best for the other.

Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.

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