Q&A with the SA Editors: Dec. 21, 1998

Clint Nurnberg Springfield, Mo. Please put the Project-40 squad's recently successful tour of England into perspective for us. That they won all five matches suggests that Project-40 is accomplishing its objectives of developing young American players quickly into quality professionals. But I wonder if the English hosts opted not to put forward their best "feet" by fielding their lower quality players. Could you give us a critical review of the whole thing? Paul Kennedy: Sure, five wins in five games is impressive, but the fact of the matter is that the U.S. team Lothar Osiander led should win all these games. These were basically players aged 21-23 -- the best the United States has to offer -- against younger English reserve teams. On the one hand, we had the future of MLS against players, the majority of whom have not even played on their club's first team and will struggle to ever make it in the Premier League. I don't think these English clubs even thought of the issue of putting their best feet forward. These were simply games they agreed to play as a favor to MLS. (Sheffield Wednesday played the P-40s the same day as its reserve team played in the Central League.) It was important, though, that these Americans get in these games. The short MLS season is a problem for players in need of experience. Remember that they are only getting seven months in MLS with an additional month of preseason. Most players overseas will play nine months, plus six weeks or so of preseason. This is the proper perspective in which to put these games. Robbie West Oakland, Calif. A recent SA Q&A had a question regarding MLS Commisioner Doug Logan's salary (answer: he makes $250,000 per year). This got me thinking about the U.S. national teams. What do national team players make for serving on the team? While I'm sure the primary motivator is patriotic, I can't help but notice that the national teams tend to draw a lot of fans to games. Mike Woitalla: U.S. players no longer get full-time salaries, as was the case before MLS. As far as I know, they are paid per diems while with the team, appearance fees, and win and tie bonuses. The amount of the bonuses depends on the importance of the game. The big money comes with World Cup qualification bonuses and World Cup bonuses. Tournaments such as the Gold Cup and U.S. Cup also promise increased incentive payments. Mike High Point, N.C. Just how often do Americans in MLS actually receive offers from foreign teams? They are seldom reported and usually we hear of Sunil Gulati being stubborn and wanting more money, even if it prevents a player from playing for a better team in a better country. Ridge Mahoney: This is a rather tricky question, Mike, since such transactions are not nearly as cut-and-dried as those involving other American pro sports teams. There are dozens of "agents" certified by FIFA that do not work in the same role as agents in American sports, who represent players in contract negotiations, endorsement talks, and in some cases, legal affairs. Most of the agents overseas are middlemen, trying to match up players with teams. They help facilitate the deal, take their cut, and move on to the next transaction. Some do represent players, but many more are deal-makers. MLS takes calls often from such agents, offering the services of this player or that player. But the actual number of firm offers from either a club or its representatives is rather low, since Gulati has put very high price tags on players the league wants to keep: Marco Etcheverry, Stern John, Carlos Valderrama, Cobi Jones, etc. This often discourages a club from entering serious negotiations. Sometimes, MLS players talk of "offers," when all they mean is some guy in Europe called up asking if they might be interested in moving to a foreign team. More often than not, there's no deal in the works, and few if any teams are actually interested, but that's how rumors of offers get started. At the moment, though, D.C.'s Tony Sanneh -- a free agent -- has a serious offer on the table from Bundesliga club Hertha Berlin (he should be making a decision any day now), and disgruntled San Jose forward Eric Wynalda is trying out for Premier League club Charlton Athletic, which may then negotiate a transfer fee with MLS. Luis Cruz Portland, Ore. I've been hearing a lot about the new stadium being built for the Columbus Crew. What is the dimension of the pitch, and why don't we see any 80 by 120 yard stadiums for MLS? Pete Bailey: Luis, the dimensions of the Crew's new field will be 75 by 115 yards. As for the dearth of wide fields in MLS, the major reason is the lack of soccer-specific stadiums. Remember that most MLS teams play in venues that were built for NFL or college football. With the exception of Columbus, MLS teams are not the owners of the stadiums in which they play. I know that one of the league's goals is to have every team playing in its own soccer stadium, but that will take money, resources, time and the continued growth of the league -- in short, it isn't going to happen for a while. Gabriel Fuentes Manhattan Beach, Calif. Since all of you are knowledgeable enough about U.S. soccer, I would like to know what you think about the hiring of Bruce Arena as the national team coach. Given his minimal (at best) international experience, how is Bruce Arena going to coach players who have been exposed to top notch coaching in other leagues? What can Bruce Arena tell players like Claudio Reyna, Chad Deering, Kasey Keller, John O'Brien, and other players who have been exposed to coaches with international or top level domestic competition experience? Yes, Steve Sampson had the very little experieince himself but he at least had served under a true master of the international game (whether or not you agree with his methods) in Bora MIlutinovic. I would have liked to have seen the U.S. truly try and hire an international coach and let Arena seve as an assistant (if he so desired). If Arena's ego would not allow him to serve as an assistant then we could have picked someone else to serve as assistant -- Octavio Zambrano for instance. Coaching against the likes of Clemson and the Tampa Bay Mutiny does not (it seems to me) qualify someone as a national team coach -- nor does it ready them in coaching against the likes of Mexico or Costa Rica, let alone the top teams in the world! Mike Woitalla: Kasey Keller and Claudio Reyna have both told me that they have great respect for Bruce Arena and enjoy playing for him. (Both played for Arena at the 1996 Olympics, and Reyna played for him in college.) Arena's international D.C. United players, including Marco Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno, have also been on the record praising Arena. Both have played for club coaches in South America and Europe, and have played in a World Cup. I also know that the professionalism Arena has always brought to the field -- even at the University of Virginia -- is comparable a foreign pro league situation. As for international experience, Arena coached in the 1996 Olympics and in games leading up to them. He guided D.C. United to the Interamerican Cup and CONCACAF Champions' Cup titles. If you want to compare Arena to international coaches in charge of American players, how about recalling MLS failures Carlos Alberto Parreira, Frank Stapleton and Bob Houghton and the modest performance of Carlos Queiroz?
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