D.C. United's Bruce Arena is almost certain to become the next
national team coach
How strange and intriguing it is to hear a good coach in pro
soccer speak in a Brooklyn accent. "I yam who I yam," said Bruce
Arena after coaching D.C. United to a 2-0 victory over the
Columbus Crew on Sunday, in the opening game of the
best-of-three MLS Eastern Conference finals. "Take it or leave
The U.S. Soccer Federation will take it. After months of
apparent dithering, the USSF announced last week that it will
try to sign Arena, 47, as coach of the national team once United
has finished its season.
The richest country in the world has had a lot of trouble hiring
a soccer coach. The job seems attractive, but every time
representatives of the federation have interviewed someone of
any distinction, the candidate has backed away. The latest coach
to do so was former USSF adviser Carlos Queiroz, who, frustrated
over not being made a firm offer, announced last week that he
would remain as coach of the United Arab Emirates. He then
endorsed Arena for the U.S. job.
"I've tried to keep my opinions and feelings out of this whole
thing," says Arena, who has often been criticized by USSF
bureaucrats for his outspokenness, and who had an unhappy
relationship with meddling federation officials when he coached
the U.S. men's team in the 1996 Olympics. "I haven't spent a lot
of time thinking about this job."
Arena won five NCAA titles at Virginia from 1978 to '95 and is
seeking his third championship in MLS's third year. D.C.'s
victory on Sunday was its 13th in a row in the postseason. Not
only did United play with much greater horsepower than the Crew,
but it also had the peerless--by MLS standards--Marco Etcheverry
at the wheel.
The most compelling evidence in favor of hiring Arena to coach
the U.S. team is this: Not only does he get the best players in
the league, but they also don't want to play anywhere else.
Etcheverry, a Bolivian, wants to stay with D.C., and Eddie Pope,
the best young American in MLS, refused a chance last summer to
jump to one of the biggest clubs in Germany, Borussia Dortmund.
"It's something that's hard to put your finger on," Pope says of
playing for Arena. "It's something about winning."
That's why United is MLS's example of how a team should deal
with pro athletes. Yet the league is intent on preventing United
from creating a dynasty. Deputy commissioner Sunil Gulati told
The Washington Post recently that he has been allocating fewer
players to D.C. in an attempt to "balance" the league. Why
should Arena risk staying in a league that intends to punish him
for the crime of being excellent?
He ought to take advantage of his leverage over the USSF. For
the good of the country, the federation should hand Arena a
four-year contract as national team coach and get out of his way.
SUPERLEAGUE? SUPER LOOT
The NFL, with an annual $2.2 billion TV deal, is arguably the
richest sports league in the world. But it may not be for long.
The top soccer clubs in Europe are on the verge of forming a
so-called superleague that could quadruple their TV revenues. "I
think it will be the most valuable sports property in the world
in about five years," says Peter Sprogis, a top sports-marketing
agent based in London.
Media Partners, a sports-marketing firm in Italy that has been
trying to organize a superleague, has been courting 36 of the
top European clubs with promises of $1.2 billion in annual
revenues from the sale of television and sponsorship rights, to
be divided among the teams. The league would begin play in the
Now, however, it appears likely that Media Partners will be
muscled out of the picture by none other than UEFA, the
federation that oversees professional soccer in Europe with much
the same arrogance with which the NCAA rules college sports.
UEFA is trying to put together its own 32-team superleague,
which could kick off as soon as next season.
If UEFA succeeds, Sprogis and his agency, Prisma Sports and
Media, hope to represent the league in the sale of its TV and
sponsorship rights. By auctioning off these rights, Sprogis
believes, the league will be able to top Media Partners' $1.2
The superleague is a logical development on a continent moving
toward a single currency and unified laws. Europe's most popular
sport would increasingly follow the model of the NFL, providing
fans with a once-a-week slate of games showcasing the sport's
The value of the TV rights to those games is hardly lost on
Rupert Murdoch. In 1993 he paid about $1.6 billion for rights to
NFC games over four years, plus the 1997 Super Bowl, to boost
his Fox network in the U.S. Last month he spent a world-record
$1 billion to purchase Manchester United, the most popular and
profitable soccer club in Europe.
If a European superleague is successful, look for soccer in
other regions of the world to be unified by the likes of
Murdoch, and look for the eventual development of global
playoffs culminating in a true world championship for clubs.
"The NBA desperately wants to have such a thing, but it can
never have it," says Sprogis. "The only sport that can do it is
soccer, because it has the infrastructure and the popularity
around the world."
The big danger of a superleague is that it will diminish
England's Premier League, Germany's Bundesliga, Italy's Serie A
and the other leading national soccer leagues. For the first few
years, under UEFA's or Media Partners' plan, Man United would
continue to play in the English Premiership on weekends and
compete in the superleague at midweek, as it does now in UEFA's
Champions League. But soon Man United and the other superleague
clubs will grow too powerful for their domestic rivals.
So here's an idea that would at least keep the national leagues
competitive: Clubs such as Man United would field two teams.
Their A teams would play exclusively in the superleague; their B
sides, made up of young players aspiring to the higher level,
would play in the national leagues, which would become
developmental leagues, much as the Pac-10, Southeastern
Conference and Big Ten are, in effect, for the NFL. The
superleague would be the centerpiece of the sport, and its
members would prosper.
MOVE OVER, MIA
The U.S. shouldn't worry about scoring goals when it hosts 15
countries next year in the Women's World Cup. During a 6-0 win
over North Carolina-Greensboro last Friday, Florida senior
forward Danielle Fotopoulos had a hat trick to equal the
Division I women's career record of 103 goals held by fellow
national-team members Mia Hamm and Tiffeny Milbrett. Fotopoulos,
a 22-year-old two-time All-America, was on the team in 1996, '97
and '98 and has been invited to try out for next year's squad.
When the World Cup begins in June, the three most prolific
scorers in NCAA history will probably be teammates. By then
Fotopoulos is almost sure to hold the record alone.
"Mia is the best player in the world, and it's amazing to me
that I have reached the same number of goals she had," says
Fotopoulos, who has scored four times in nine appearances with
the U.S. team, predominantly as a backup to Hamm. "To compare
myself to her is something I never even thought of doing."
This fall Fotopoulos, with 17 goals in 12 games through Sunday,
has shown no aftereffects of the surgery on her right knee that
cost her all of last season. At 5'11" and 165 pounds, she is
extremely strong yet quick. At Lyman High in Longwood, Fla.,
near Orlando, she was a conference singles champion in tennis,
earned all-state honors in swimming and led the girls'
basketball and cross-country teams to district and state
championships, respectively. Lyman's girls' soccer team won
three state titles during her varsity career.
Fotopoulos spent her first two college seasons at SMU, where she
scored 52 goals under her maiden name, Danielle Garrett, and led
the Mustangs to the 1995 Final Four. In June '96 she married
George Fotopoulos, the women's soccer coach at the University of
Tampa, and transferred to Florida to be closer to him. On the
No. 5 Gators (11-1 at week's end), Danielle has teamed with
5'10" forward Abby Wambach in a Twin Towers offense. Wambach,
last year's national high school player of the year, had scored
10 goals through Sunday.
As for the NCAA scoring record, "my teammates have been more
excited about it than I have," Fotopoulos says. "I didn't really
know about it until I started getting close."
COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY Hang timeTony Sanneh kept his head in the game and scored one of D.C.'s two goals against the Crew.[Tony Sanneh and Michael Clark in soccer game]
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO Fotopoulos has an NCAA-record 103 goals, tying former Tar Heel Hamm. [Danielle Fotopoulos running for soccer ball in game]