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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Will it go back to normal?: The U.S. Soccer Federation did the unthinkable, calling replacement players to camp before labor dispute was settled

The U.S. men’s national soccer team defeated Trinidad and Tobago 2-1 Wednesday behind goals from forward Eddie Johnson of FC Dallas in the 30th minute and Eddie Lewis [Fulham (England)]in the 54th.

The U.S. is now 1-0-0 and has three points as they begin the final round of qualifying for FIFA World Cup 2006 in Germany. The U.S starting 11 had eight European-based players with significant national team experience. That wasn’t necessarily the way the U.S. roster looked several weeks ago.

Not only was the anticipated victory- and three points-in question (though the United States is ranked No. 11 in the world), but also the plan the U.S. Soccer Federation had to use replacement players from the United Soccer Leagues, the U.S. minor league soccer system, raised a few eyebrows. In other words, you would not see Real’s Clint Mathis or Eddie Pope in red, white and blue. Instead you would have seen players who had never been given the chance to play for the “Nats.”

The 2-1 win could have been a tie, or worse, a loss. In defense of the national team, however, its players didn’t-and don’t have a contract. Alas, the federation had a plan. The plan absolutely shocked soccer pundits across the globe.

The plans of mice and men

The plan was to send replacement players to Trinidad and Tobago for the U.S.’ first World Cup qualifying match. But that’s not even the half of it. A simple statement therefore stunned everybody with a statement on Jan. 20. Let’s call it the “battle of attrition.”

Their plan, apparently, was to send 22 USL First and Second Division players to training camp in advance of the US-Trinidad qualifier. In other words, the lower tiers of professional American soccer would decide the outcome of a vital WCQ match.

This came to fruition in a simple announcement Jan. 20 by USL President Francisco Marcos. It read, in part: “As an organization, United Soccer Leagues is as disappointed by the current labor impasse between U.S. Soccer and the U.S. Men’s National Team Players Association (USMNTPA) as both parties and U.S. soccer fans are. At the same time, we wholeheartedly support the professional USL players who were invited to the U.S. Men’s National Team training camp.

We are appreciative of U.S. Soccer and coach Bruce Arena’s confidence in deciding to invite our players to camp to be a part of the qualifying process. We have always felt our top professionals can compete on the international level for the United States. Numerous players in the USL First Division are regulars for nations like Canada, Liberia and, ironically, our first qualifying opponent, Trinidad and Tobago.”

The 22 replacements were already at USMNT training camp at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., when the announcement was made, chasing what once may have seemed a dream. An agreement between the players’ association and the federation was reached the next day, on Jan. 21.

Ironically, the “scab camp” ended the day after the shocking announcement was made. That’s when the federation and the players agreed, in principle, to pay raises and salary boosts based on the team’s performances during World Cup qualifying.

Above all, the federation sent a message to the players’ association that is loud and clear. The players’ time is worth a $750 pay raise per match, and a win equals another $2,250 boost per player, depending on the opponent, but it is not worth a contract. The end to the labor dispute between the players’ union and the federation, called the “no-strike, no-lockout provision,” sent all but one replacement player packing and returned the top players to camp, including Mathis.

The provision is good until the end of 2005. By Feb. 7, all of the European-based players had returned to the “Nats” camp, except for goalie Brad Friedel. He retired on that day. Of those original 22 players invited to camp, only one player (MF Clyde Simms of the A-League Div. 1 Richmond Kickers) has remained in camp.

The “scab camp” roster would have marked only the second time in the modern era (the first was in 1989 in the Gold Cup) when amateur players comprised a good portion of the U.S. Men’s National Team roster for an international tournament.

In retrospect

How on Earth could a national team call up replacement players for a match in Trinidad? After all, this is the same US men’s National Team that made it to the quarterfinals of the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Japan and Korea, narrowly losing to Germany and fortifying their place as a soccer nation.

USMNT coach Bruce Arena led D.C. United to several MLS championships before assuming the helm of a sinking ship called the U.S.S. Slow ‘n’ Go. On it stood then-coach Steve Sampson (now the L.A. Galaxy head coach), notorious for playing conservative soccer, employing, at times, a 4-5-1 formation with one forward, thus leading the team to uneventful 1-0 wins-and just as many ties.

That all changed in the time of Bruce. The United States, by all rights, is now a soccer superpower after their success in the 2002 World Cup. From Brian McBride’s powerful headers to Claudio Reyna’s midfield mastery to Eddie Pope’s quiet, strong defensive presence to Kasey Keller’s mystifying goalkeeping, the USMNT is a team loaded with talent, fortitude and, in the case of its labor relations, inequality.

Would such a possibility of change in the national team happen in, say, England, or even Brazil? The math is not so simple.

Not since 2002 have the players on the U.S. Men’s National Team had anything resembling a contract. And not since the infamous Soccer Wars of the 1920s and 1930s has there been such an outpouring of hatred between two soccer member organizations, in this case, the players’ association of the USMNT and the U.S. Soccer Federation.

Newspapers across the country have chronicled the struggles of the two member organizations for weeks. What’s more is the threat of a player’s strike is not over: FIFA World Cup 2006 Germany looms over the U.S. Men’s National Team like a dark cloud on the horizon.

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