[UKRAINE-USA] In the wake of reports that 25 police and protesters were killed in violent clashes as the backdrop, U.S. Soccer has a tough decision to make in the coming days: go ahead with the U.S. national team's March 5 friendly against Kharkiv or scrap it?
The U.S. State Department issued a travel alert for U.S. citizens in the wake of violent clashes. The protests are against President Viktor F. Yanukovych and pit generally pro-western citizens against a government seen as tilting toward Russia, echoing the days when Ukraine was part of the Soviet bloc. The Ukraine-USA game happens to be scheduled to be played in the pro-Russian city of Kharkiv -- the first capital of Soviet Ukraine in 1922.
Ukraine -- which lost out to France in a two-leg playoff for a finals spot -- gives the USA a chance to play a European team in a tune-up for the World Cup, where it will face two European teams, Germany and Portugal.
But the late date the game was announced -- Jan. 16 -- suggests that Ukraine was not the first choice as most big teams would have had their March 5 friendlies -- the last games with their full squads before rosters must be submitted to FIFA -- already finalized shortly after the World Cup draw on Dec. 6.
Kharkiv -- located 300 miles east of Kiev and near the Russian border -- was isn't exactly the most convenient location to host a game. U.S. players -- most of whom are expected to be European-based -- are scheduled to assemble in Frankfurt, Germany, for training on Monday and Tuesday and then take a charter flight to Kharkiv.
There is precedent for the USA pulling out of a friendly. It canceled a February 2011 match against Egypt nine days before the game was to be played as the Egyptian Revolution took off. On the other hand, FIFA went ahead with and the USA played in the 2013 Under-20 World Cup in Istanbul shortly after millions of citizens demonstrated against the Turkish government and 11 Turks were killed.
The crisis doesn't exactly come at the most convenient time. U.S. national team staff is in Florianopolis, Brazil, where FIFA is hosting a three-day workshop for representatives of the 32 nations competing at the World Cup.
UPDATE. Dynamo Kiev's Europa League game at home against Spain's Valencia on Thursday was moved to the Cypriot capital of Nicosia because of the situation in Kiev. The Dnipro-Tottenham game in Dnipropetrovsk and will go ahead in Ukraine as planned even though President Viktor Yanukovich declared Thursday a day of mourning.