By Ridge Mahoney
Not all of the soccer news emanating out of Salt Lake City this week is bad. Much of it, yes, but not all of it.
Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon decided Monday to back the vote of a Debt Review Committee that recommended Salt Lake County reject a proposal by which $30 million in hotel taxes would be funneled to a $110 million stadium project in suburban Sandy.
In the aftermath of Corroon's announcement, operator-investor Dave Checketts has threatened to: a) sell the team; b) move the team, or c) well, there is no Plan C.
But there is hope. The stadium itself hasn't been rejected; the committee simply denied Checketts the use of public funds. Checketts could solicit funds from the private sector or take on partners to make up the shortfall, or pay it himself. He had already pledged an additional $7.5 million.
The team's lease at Rice-Eccles Stadium runs through the 2007 season, and there's a complex financial ceiling that could prevent the team from playing its full schedule at Rice-Eccles in 2008, should a new lease be worked out. Before deciding to cast his vote for Sandy, Checketts reviewed proposals to build a stadium in Salt Lake City itself as well as Murray, another suburb. (The Salt Lake City Council will hold an emergency work-session meeting Wednesday afternoon to "discuss the option of soccer in the Fairpark area.")
Head coach John Ellingerand his staff are preparing for the start of training camp next week. The team will train in Salt Lake City indoors for a week, head to Florida for a mini-tournament with New York, Houston and Chicago, and return home before enjoying the plum of the preseason: a 12-day visit to Real Madrid.
"That's not too shabby," says Ellinger. "They're home the weekend that we're there, and the next weekend they play Barcelona in Barcelona, so a few of us are thinking about staying and driving to see that one." Real also plays the second leg of their Champions League series against Bayern Munich in Germany March 7.
Salary cap-issues are clouding the status of Andy Williams as well as Nick Rimando, who was acquired from D.C. United in the Freddy Adu trade but has yet to agree on a salary. The team is being dinged $100,000 against the cap as a condition of trading Clint Mathis to Colorado.
A bid for Jeff Cunningham was received from an unspecified Israeli club. General manager Steve Pastorino noted that it fell "about $990,000 short" of what it would probably take to acquire Cunningham, who led MLS last season with 16 goals.
RSL has landed Chris Lancos, who was picked up in last year's supplementary draft. He signed with Kaiserslautern last winter and has decided to return home after being unable to break out of the reserves.
"He's played almost every reserve game at holding mid, but he played four years at right back at Maryland and a couple of years he led the team in assists, so offensively he can play," says Ellinger, who traveled to Germany to see Lancos in a match. "You just had to put a bungee cord on him at times when I had him [with the U.S. U-17s].
"The game I saw he got red-carded with about seven minutes to go, but then we had dinner and he seemed good about the possibility. He called me over the break and said he liked to do it so we started the process."
Ellinger plans to play Lancos at right back if he goes with a four-man defense but says he can play wide in a five-man midfield. Carey Talley will anchor the midfield, Adu will be given the chance to run the attack, and Mehdi Ballouchy has first call on the left side. "Right now, you know Carey's going to be in the middle and Freddy's going to be in the middle and the other two spots are open," says Ellinger. "We'll try things in preseason and hopefully we can figure it out."
Figuring it out is what Checketts hopes to do, too.