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SI FOR KIDS
by Ian Thomsen
Posted: Wed October 13, 1998
D.C. United's Bruce Arena is almost certain to become the next national team coach
The U.S. Soccer Federation will take it. After months of apparent dithering, the USSF announced last week that it will try to sign Arena, 47, as coach of the national team once United has finished its season.
The richest country in the world has had a lot of trouble hiring a soccer coach. The job seems attractive, but every time representatives of the federation have interviewed someone of any distinction, the candidate has backed away. The latest coach to do so was former USSF adviser Carlos Queiroz, who, frustrated over not being made a firm offer, announced last week that he would remain as coach of the United Arab Emirates. He then endorsed Arena for the U.S. job.
"I've tried to keep my opinions and feelings out of this whole thing," says Arena, who has often been criticized by USSF bureaucrats for his outspokenness, and who had an unhappy relationship with meddling federation officials when he coached the U.S. men's team in the 1996 Olympics. "I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about this job."
Arena won five NCAA titles at Virginia from 1978 to '95 and is seeking his third championship in MLS's third year. D.C.'s victory on Sunday was its 13th in a row in the postseason. Not only did United play with much greater horsepower than the Crew, but it also had the peerlessby MLS standardsMarco Etcheverry at the wheel.
The most compelling evidence in favor of hiring Arena to coach the U.S. team is this: Not only does he get the best players in the league, but they also don't want to play anywhere else. Etcheverry, a Bolivian, wants to stay with D.C., and Eddie Pope, the best young American in MLS, refused a chance last summer to jump to one of the biggest clubs in Germany, Borussia Dortmund. "It's something that's hard to put your finger on," Pope says of playing for Arena. "It's something about winning."
That's why United is MLS's example of how a team should deal with pro athletes. Yet the league is intent on preventing United from creating a dynasty. Deputy commissioner Sunil Gulati told The Washington Post recently that he has been allocating fewer players to D.C. in an attempt to "balance" the league. Why should Arena risk staying in a league that intends to punish him for the crime of being excellent?
He ought to take advantage of his leverage over the USSF. For the good of the country, the federation should hand Arena a four-year contract as national team coach and get out of his way.
The NFL, with an annual $2.2 billion TV deal, is arguably the richest sports league in the world. But it may not be for long. The top soccer clubs in Europe are on the verge of forming a so-called superleague that could quadruple their TV revenues. "I think it will be the most valuable sports property in the world in about five years," says Peter Sprogis, a top sports-marketing agent based in London.
Media Partners, a sports-marketing firm in Italy that has been trying to organize a superleague, has been courting 36 of the top European clubs with promises of $1.2 billion in annual revenues from the sale of television and sponsorship rights, to be divided among the teams. The league would begin play in the 2000-01 season.
Now, however, it appears likely that Media Partners will be muscled out of the picture by none other than UEFA, the federation that oversees professional soccer in Europe with much the same arrogance with which the NCAA rules college sports. UEFA is trying to put together its own 32-team superleague, which could kick off as soon as next season.
If UEFA succeeds, Sprogis and his agency, Prisma Sports and Media, hope to represent the league in the sale of its TV and sponsorship rights. By auctioning off these rights, Sprogis believes, the league will be able to top Media Partners' $1.2 billion deal.
The superleague is a logical development on a continent moving toward a single currency and unified laws. Europe's most popular sport would increasingly follow the model of the NFL, providing fans with a once-a-week slate of games showcasing the sport's best teams.
The value of the TV rights to those games is hardly lost on Rupert Murdoch. In 1993 he paid about $1.6 billion for rights to NFC games over four years, plus the 1997 Super Bowl, to boost his Fox network in the U.S. Last month he spent a world-record $1 billion to purchase Manchester United, the most popular and profitable soccer club in Europe.
If a European superleague is successful, look for soccer in other regions of the world to be unified by the likes of Murdoch, and look for the eventual development of global playoffs culminating in a true world championship for clubs. "The NBA desperately wants to have such a thing, but it can never have it," says Sprogis. "The only sport that can do it is soccer, because it has the infrastructure and the popularity around the world."
The big danger of a superleague is that it will diminish England's Premier League, Germany's Bundesliga, Italy's Serie A and the other leading national soccer leagues. For the first few years, under UEFA's or Media Partners' plan, Man United would continue to play in the English Premiership on weekends and compete in the superleague at midweek, as it does now in UEFA's Champions League. But soon Man United and the other superleague clubs will grow too powerful for their domestic rivals.
So here's an idea that would at least keep the national leagues competitive: Clubs such as Man United would field two teams. Their A teams would play exclusively in the superleague; their B sides, made up of young players aspiring to the higher level, would play in the national leagues, which would become developmental leagues, much as the Pac-10, Southeastern Conference and Big Ten are, in effect, for the NFL. The superleague would be the centerpiece of the sport, and its members would prosper.
"Mia is the best player in the world, and it's amazing to me that I have reached the same number of goals she had," says Fotopoulos, who has scored four times in nine appearances with the U.S. team, predominantly as a backup to Hamm. "To compare myself to her is something I never even thought of doing."
This fall Fotopoulos, with 17 goals in 12 games through Sunday, has shown no aftereffects of the surgery on her right knee that cost her all of last season. At 5'11" and 165 pounds, she is extremely strong yet quick. At Lyman High in Longwood, Fla., near Orlando, she was a conference singles champion in tennis, earned all-state honors in swimming and led the girls' basketball and cross-country teams to district and state championships, respectively. Lyman's girls' soccer team won three state titles during her varsity career.
Fotopoulos spent her first two college seasons at SMU, where she scored 52 goals under her maiden name, Danielle Garrett, and led the Mustangs to the 1995 Final Four. In June '96 she married George Fotopoulos, the women's soccer coach at the University of Tampa, and transferred to Florida to be closer to him. On the No. 5 Gators (11-1 at week's end), Danielle has teamed with 5'10" forward Abby Wambach in a Twin Towers offense. Wambach, last year's national high school player of the year, had scored 10 goals through Sunday.
As for the NCAA scoring record, "my teammates have been more excited about it than I have," Fotopoulos says. "I didn't really know about it until I started getting close."
Issue date: October 19, 1998
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