Galaxy's World Is Rocked

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Galaxy, which had built its season around competing in the second FIFA World Club Championship in Spain this summer, has had the tournament yanked out from under it.

World soccer's governing body announced in Zurich, Switzerland, Friday that, because of adverse economic conditions and other factors, the 12-team championship would be postponed until 2003.

The announcement was viewed by some as a death-knell for the event and a major embarrassment for FIFA.

Galaxy Coach Sigi Schmid broke the news to his players after training Friday morning. "They're obviously disappointed," he said. "There was some gallows humor. One of the lines I heard was, 'Is anybody interested in buying a car?' "

The Galaxy players, each of whom stood to earn $50,000 or more simply by taking part in the July 28-Aug. 12 tournament, were devastated by the news.

For veteran players such as Mauricio Cienfuegos, Paul Caligiuri and even Luis Hernandez, the world club championship could have been a capstone to their careers. For the younger players, it offered a chance to make names on the world stage.

"It's disheartening when you have a great opportunity like we had to play against a club like Real Madrid," Schmid said. "That's not going to come along every day."

The Galaxy qualified for the world championship by winning the North and Central American and Caribbean (CONCACAF) championship in January. Major League Soccer had hoped that the Galaxy's participation would further boost the league's international image.

It even rearranged the MLS schedule to allow the Galaxy a month off in midseason to go to Spain. It was unclear Friday whether MLS would again alter the schedule to fill what is now a huge gap in the Galaxy season.

"Obviously, we're hugely disappointed, especially for the players who deserved and had earned the opportunity to play against some of the great club teams in the world," said Ivan Gazidis, MLS deputy commissioner.

"Obviously, it's not desirable to have a dead period for the Galaxy in the middle of our season. We're examining options to fill that period, either through the MLS schedule being readjusted or there is [another] possibility [because] we now have 12 excellent teams available for that time."

In other words, MLS might try to arrange anything from a single game to a three- or four-team tournament in Los Angeles involving one or more of the teams that were to have played in the world championship.

The highlight of the trip to Spain for the Galaxy was to have been a match against European champion Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabeau Stadium. It also was scheduled to play African champion Hearts of Oak of Ghana and Asian champion Jubilo Iwata of Japan in the first round.

FIFA did not indicate whether the same teams that qualified for this summer's tournament will be allowed to take part in 2003, should that world championship take place.

Such a scenario seemed unlikely to Schmid.

"We have to now focus on the job at hand, which is the league," he said. "If there's going to be another one of these, it's going to be in 2003. In order for us to qualify for that, we've got to win the league [in 2001 and then the CONCACAF title in 2002]. So we've got to focus on that."

The decision to postpone the world championship for two years was made by the eight members of FIFA's emergency committee.

"The period during which the competition was to be staged is particularly inconvenient from the perspective of national and international fixtures," a FIFA statement explained, overlooking the fact that FIFA chose the dates.

"The economic crises affecting the countries of some of the participating clubs further heighten existing commercial difficulties," the statement continued, ignoring the fact that none of the competing clubs had complained of being unable to afford the trip to Spain.

The real cause of the postponement was the inability of Traffic, FIFA's marketing partner for the event, to sell the tournament to sponsors and broadcasters.

Having already promised prize money totaling more than $40 million to the competing teams, FIFA was faced with a substantial financial loss at a time when it already has a major headache on its hands because of the financial collapse of ISL, its World Cup marketing partner.

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