USA-Mexico battle set for executive committee seat

[FIFA] The USA and Mexico squared off in an epic battle for the Concacaf Under-20 Championship Sunday in Puebla, Mexico. They will meet in their highly anticipated World Cup qualifier March 26 at Mexico City's Azteca Stadium. And they will also face off April 19 in Panama City, where the Concacaf members will vote on whether U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati or his Mexican federation counterpart Justino Compean will succeed Chuck Blazer as the North America representative on the FIFA executive committee.

Blazer, who was general secretary of Concacaf until his departure at the end of 2011, was picked to fill the open spot on FIFA's executive committee following the death of Mexican Guillermo Canedo in 1997.

Both Compean and Gulati were in Puebla. The Mexican federation went so far as to tweet that Compean was at one of the Puebla stadiums with Jeffrey Webb, who was elected Concacaf president following the resignation of Jack Warner, and Concacaf vice presidents Alfredo Hawitt from Honduras and Horace Burrell from Jamaica.

Concacaf consists of 35 FIFA members -- 25 from the Caribbean, seven from Central America and three from North America -- plus five associate members: Dutch territory Sint Maarten as well French Guyana and three other French overseas departments, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Saint-Martin.

The Caribbean dominates Concacaf politics -- which explains Warner's powerhold for 20-plus years -- and who Webb and Burrell support will likely determine whether Gulati or Compean will win.

There was tremendous anti-Blazer sentiment in the Caribbean after he blew the whistle on Warner, whom he helped install in power, and Qatari Mohammed bin Hammam, who was accused of buying Caribbean votes in his campaign to unseat FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

Blatter would seem to be the other key power broker in this election. The exit of Warner and Blazer left Concacaf in shambles and the investigation into the Caribbean vote scandal resulted in bans, fines or warnings to 27 Caribbean soccer officials, including Burrell, who received a six-month ban from all soccer activities (with three months suspended). Blatter stepped in and worked to help rebuild Concacaf and backed Webb for Concacaf president.

Mexico and the USA are the two giants of Concacaf.

Mexico's clubs have won every Concacaf Champions League title since its launch in 2009, and Mexico's Liga MX is the best-supported league outside Europe. Television networks Televisa and TV Azteca hold considerable power in Latin America.

The success of the Gold Cup in the USA makes U.S. Soccer a powerful player in Concacaf. National teams like Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Jamaica depend heavily on tapping into the U.S. market for international matches that attract immigrant fans from these countries.

Concacaf has moved to cut back on some of the Blazer/U.S. influence since his exit. The headquarters were moved from New York, Blazer's hometown, to Miami. Concacaf also switched marketing partners, from SUM, the MLS and U.S. Soccer marketing agency, to Traffic, based in South America.

Blazer's successor as Concacaf general secretary, Colombian-born Enrique Sanz, resides in Miami and worked for Traffic before joining Concacaf in July 2012.

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