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SOCCER / GRAHAME L. JONES : Rothenberg Shift First Major Move as MLS Awakens

Having moved for more than a year with all the speed of a geriatric sloth, Major League Soccer finally is beginning to stir.

Alan Rothenberg is expected to be replaced as chief executive officer, the move to be announced Tuesday in New York. The need for a hands-on leader will be cited for the switch, Rothenberg being viewed as having spread himself too thinly between MLS, his law practice and the presidency of the U.S. Soccer Federation.

The shake-up is said to be a mutually agreed-upon move and Rothenberg is not being forced aside.

Coaches, too, are finally being named. There are two already in place--Kansas City’s Ron Newman and Tampa Bay’s Thomas Rongen--and several others close to being selected.

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The Los Angeles Galaxy is expected to name its choice within the next week to 10 days, while the New England Revolution is chasing three possible coaches: Irish national team Coach Jack Charlton, Argentine World Cup winner Osvaldo Ardiles and former Portuguese World Cup player Toni.

The tie-in to the NASL days is likely to be strengthened by the New York-New Jersey Metro Stars’ predicted hiring of either former Cosmos coach Eddie Firmani or former Cosmos and California Surf player (and Brazil’s 1970 World Cup-winning captain) Carlos Alberto.

Meanwhile, according to Soccer America magazine, the Colorado Rapids are talking to former NASL player and former U.S. national team midfielder Brian Quinn, and the Columbus Crew is negotiating with Timo Liekoski, recently fired as U.S Olympic team coach. Both are NASL veterans.

On the player front, MLS supposedly is moving behind the scenes but is not ready to make any further announcements. Among the “star” names being bandied about are World Cup players Andreas Brehme and Rudi Voeller of Germany, Rene Higuita and Leonel Alvarez of Colombia and Gheorge Hagi of Romania.

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Those who ignorantly believe the United States’ No. 19 ranking in the world is a true reflection of its stature would be wise to consider Yugoslavia’s recent 4-1 demolition of Mexico in Mexico City.

In the latest FIFA rankings, Mexico is No. 10. Yugoslavia is No. 93.

The loss, while bemoaned in the press, will not unduly trouble Mexican Coach Bora Milutinovic, who is testing young and internationally inexperienced players in an effort to see who can make the grade.

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One additional point: Isn’t it strange how the U.S. Treasury Department could forbid a United States-Yugoslavia match in San Jose (a game previously given the green light by the State Department) when the Yugoslavs could play in El Salvador (another 4-1 victory) and Mexico without incident.

Another example, obviously, of mental gridlock in Washington, D.C.

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U.S. Cup ’95 plans were thrown into minor disarray when two potential participants--Ireland and the Netherlands--advanced to the final European Championship qualifying match, in Liverpool, England, on Dec. 13.

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The winner will join the other 15 teams in the June 8-30 finals and thus miss the U.S. Cup, which will also feature the U.S. and Mexican national teams.

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England, as the host nation, defending champion Denmark, two-time winner Germany and Spain have been selected as the four seeded teams in the Dec. 17 draw for the European Championships and will be placed at the head of their respective groups.

The other teams who have qualified for the tournament--second in importance only to the World Cup--are Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Scotland, Switzerland and Turkey.

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The final place will go to the Irish or the Dutch.

Bookmakers in London have made Italy the 9-2 favorite, followed by Germany at 5-1 and England at 11-2.

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World Cup ’98 in France has already smashed one record set by World Cup ’94 in the United States. The entry of Guinea-Bissau and Uganda into the qualifying field last week brought to 172 the number of nations who have entered the tournament.

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The previous high was 144 for USA ’94. The draw to divide the countries into regional groups for qualifying play will be held at the Louvre in Paris on Dec. 12.

Soccer Notes

Although Sweden failed to qualify for next summer’s European Championship, its most accomplished player, midfielder Tomas Brolin, has joined the English Premier League, moving to Leeds United last week from AC Parma in Italy for a record $7 million. . . . Sebastian Passarella, the 18-year-old son of Argentina’s national team coach and 1978 World Cup winner Daniel Passarella, was killed Friday when a train struck his car at a railroad crossing north of Buenos Aires. According to witnesses, a guard tried to stop Passarella’s car, but the teenager zig-zagged between the closed gates and died crossing the track.


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