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MLS CONFIDENTIAL: Chelsea changes gear
March 29th, 2006 2:46PM
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By Ridge Mahoney, Senior Editor
Soccer America

Chelsea may have pulled out this year's MLS All-Star Game, but it has signed a deal with AEG that takes effect next year.

A press conference scheduled for Monday to announce the matchup of the English Premier League champion and an MLS all-star team at the Fire's new stadium July 29 was canceled, and Wednesday Chelsea released a statement announcing it has signed a deal with AEG and will also forge a special alliance with the Los Angeles Galaxy. The club's release did not mention the All-Star Game.

Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon, who is in New York to address the World Congress of Sport, visited the MLS offices yesterday. The Chelsea Web site quoted Kenyon as saying of the AEG deal, ''This is a unique, ground-breaking relationship that not only demonstrates our commitment to the development of U.S. soccer, but will also help Chelsea work towards their aim of becoming the most popular European club in the U.S., one of our key target markets.''

Manchester United and the New York Yankees agreed to a strategic partnership in 2001; the Chelsea-AEG deal is more extensive. Young pitchers in the Yankee farm system aren't likely to visit Old Trafford; but in addition to Chelsea playing games in the U.S. and other marketing tie-ins, the alliance with L.A. Galaxy could include the sharing of players on loans and training programs.

The relationship would officially start in the summer of 2007 with a biennial tournament involving Chelsea and a host MLS team, presumably either the Galaxy or one of the other teams operating under the aegis of AEG.

ALL-STAR SNUB. A press release issued by MLS cited ''scheduling conflicts'' as the reason for the cancellation of the Monday press conference regarding the All-Star Game; in fact, another type of conflict may have prevented the Chelsea players from participating on that date.

According to a league source, MLS has received notice that the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA), which represents players in the English and Scottish leagues, has stipulated players must have a 30-day rest period following their participation in the World Cup.

Unless all of countries comprising Chelsea's vast list of international players went out in the first round, they would not be permitted to play July 29 unless the PFA grants an exemption. Only by moving the date of the All-Star Game could MLS accommodate the PFA's decree.

''We are continuing our discussions with possible international opponents for the 2006 Sierra Mist MLS All-Star Game,'' said MLS senior vice president Dan Courtemanche. He did not elaborate.

FIRST REAL, THEN BARCA. Negotiations are continuing regarding a visit by Spanish legendary club Barcelona to the USA this summer, according to MLS team sources.

Barcelona president Joan Laporta attended MLS Cup last November at Pizza Hut Park and during a press conference said the team was discussing myriad alliances and partnerships with MLS and, presumably, its marketing arm SUM as well as AEG.

Much ado was made about Barca some day fielding a team in MLS but, for the short-term, Barcelona, like Real Madrid last year, will reportedly play the Galaxy at Home Depot Center, probably in early August. The Galaxy doesn't have a league game scheduled on the first weekend of August.

At least one other match in the United States is under discussion. Last year, Real played Guadalajara in Chicago before heading west to play the Galaxy. Club America is planning a U.S. tour this summer.

FRASER MOVES ON. After ending his playing career last year, Robin Fraser has changed locales as well as professions.

He's moved to Phoenix and is the Director of Coaching for the Arizona Futbol Club, which was founded a few years ago by former Galaxy teammate Greg Vanney. One of the original MLS players, Fraser, 39, finished his career with the Crew last season. Armed with a USSF 'A' license, he'd planned on coaching sooner or later.

''Don't get the idea I'm one of those club coaches who makes hundreds of thousands of dollars, or expects to make as much as I did as a player,'' laughs Fraser, whose club is comprised of about 20 teams. ''We're a small club interested in developing youth players and teaching the right way to play the game and to enjoy it.''

He was offered a post as assistant coach by Houston head coach Dominic Kinnear but decided instead to take the AZFC job. He'll work as a color commentator for regional telecasts of Real Salt Lake games this season and, according to a source, is also on the list of commentators to work World Cup games for ESPN/ESPN2.

A busy summer might ease the transition from Columbus to Phoenix, which is an extreme climatic shock, even for a native of Kingston, Jamaica who played his college soccer at Florida International.

''They say you get used to the heat, but we'll have to see,'' he says. ''I like being outside but during the daytime in the summer you just can't do that.

''This is something Greg and I talked about and I'm really glad to get this opportunity. It's always hard to stop playing but with this and the TV work I'll still be involved in the game. It's an exciting year for soccer with the World Cup and I'm glad to be part of it.''

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