Saturday, January 22, 2005

 

Ole! Ole! Ole!

Sad that this didn't make the front pages. In any normal country, it would have led every news broadcast.
US Soccer & players reach interim deal - First-team players will be in action vs Trinidad Feb. 9

The U.S. Soccer Federation ended its threat to use replacement minor leaguers in a World Cup qualifier next month, reaching an agreement Friday with the national team's union that calls for a pay increase in exchange for a no-strike pledge through 2005.

The agreement came one day after the bickering sides met for the first time with a federal mediator. Players will be paid at the rate of the USSF's latest offer, which management calculates as a 38 percent increase over the contract that expired in December 2002, a figure the union disputes. Any increase in the next labor contract will be retroactive to January 2003.

Regular national team stars such as Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley will now be brought in for the Feb. 9 game at Trinidad and Tobago, the first of 10 in the final round of qualifying for the 2006 World Cup.

"It's certainly a relief," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said in a telephone interview. "I hope all parties are satisfied at this point in time and we can move forward. Obviously, we're behind, but it certainly won't be an excuse. We'll move forward and prepare to win a game on the road."

While European-based players are in the middle of their seasons, players from Major League Soccer have not appeared in games since last fall.

"We're just going to have to see when the players come into camp where they're at," Arena said. "It probably will be a big range. Some players will be pretty fit, some won't be. Fortunately, we have a good number of players that are playing abroad on a regular basis that will help fill that void."

Under the interim deal, players will be paid $2,750 per qualifier, up from $2,000 in qualifying for the 2002 tournament. The bonus for each win, which had been $2,200 to $4,000, depending on the opponent and whether the game was in the United States or abroad, will rise to $6,250 for games against Mexico and Costa Rica, and to $4,750 against Guatemala, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago.

Arena had spent the last week assembling a team from the United Soccer Leagues and the Major Indoor Soccer League.

"We hope this is a good sign," Donovan said in a statement. "We hope that with the players back on the field, and the coach and the players back to the business of qualifying for the 2006 World Cup, the players can sit down with federation representatives and put in place a 2003-2006 agreement or perhaps even a 2003-2010 agreement."

Still, there is no final labor contract, leaving players free to strike the World Cup, which starts on June 9, 2006. The interim deal came after 70 players filed a demand for arbitration under the Olympic and Amateur Sports Act. It is an unusual situation because the USSF is both a national governing body and an employer with a union formed under the National Labor Relations Act.

"This is a clear win for both the fans and the sport of soccer in the U.S.," USSF president Bob Contiguglia said. "We certainly believe that moving forward in this manner can help the two parties reach a collective bargaining agreement."
We should not have trouble with Trinidad, even in Port-of-Spain, but there's not much time for a serious camp. Bruce is probably going to have to go with the guys he knows. Who aren't bad. But the MLS players haven't been in action for months, so their timing is probably going to be off. I'll be happy with a draw in Trinidad, which is 2 points less than we really want to start off the Hex. The USA are odds-on favorites to finish at least second in the group, which of course means qualification for Germany 2006. If anything goes wrong, however, the fans are going to blame US Soccer, not the players. I imagine that figured into US Soccer's calculations, as well as the players'. They better work on a long-term fix and get it done quickly.
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