Is Seattle creeping closer to landing a U.S. national team date?

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Sooner or later, something’s got to give on Seattle as a U.S. national team venue.

The challenges are vast, but at some point the U.S. Soccer federation and officials from Seattle Sounders FC will need to sort out the details of how to match the United States men’s soccer team with the country’s top professional soccer market.

The Sounders just set an MLS attendance record (again!) with a league-leading average of 43,144. In fact, “league-leading” hardly does justice to the town’s dominance here. That whopper-eye-popper of a total was nearly double second-place Los Angeles.

The problem, of course, is down to two words: artificial turf.

Yes, FIFA has approved certain types of the fake stuff for international matches. That happened long ago. But – this is where the Seattle-as-U.S.-venue argument eludes many people – that does not mean that U.S. Soccer or the American players really want to play there.

No one is opposed to Seattle, believe me.  Heck, who doesn’t like good coffee, Pike Place salmon tossers, Mount Rainier and all of the city’s wonderful grunginess? Mostly, American players and officials all appreciate how the Pacific Northwest, and Seattle in particular, has embraced and enlivened domestic soccer. What’s not to love about it – except for that playing surface, that is?

They just don’t like playing on it.  If choices didn’t exist, everyone might think differently. But, clearly, there is a country full of juicy options out there. So from beyond Seattle, it’s a difficult choice to justify.

Yes, officials around CenturyLink could spend the $150,000 to lay a temporary grass field for one match. And how does that usually work out for everyone?

Let me tell you: people like me beat the hell out of U.S. Soccer for trying something that almost never works. The fields are bad, so the game looks bad and plays badly. The players complain (if only quietly), and rightly so, because safety is an issue at some point.

I know the fans in Seattle recoil when they see that (and they tend to get upset when journalists like me write it) but this is not my opinion. I promise you, I’m not making up this stuff! This is what I hear from players, coaches, staff and agents.

So we circle back around to CenturyLink Field – and to Jeld-Wen Field in Portland, for that matter – and its presumed need for artificial turf.

Personally, I’ve always just checked the box here beside “Imperfect World.” CenturyLink Field is where the Sounders need to be in 2012.  I have no problem with that.

CenturyLink needs artificial turf.  OK, fair enough.

The U.S. Soccer players do not enjoy playing on artificial turf. Therefore …

It’s an imperfect world, so we don’t see important U.S. match there.

Or … Will we? All that said, Seattle Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer seemed to hint at something in today’s piece from The Seattle Times’ Joshua Mayers:

 … We don’t just want to bring any old game here. If we bring a game, we want it to have some meaning and be a game that our fans are really going to enjoy, and not just be a money grab for U.S. Soccer. That is something that we’re working on, and with a little bit of luck and some hard work, we might have something that we can hopefully hang out hats on in the near future here.”

I’m not sure what that means in terms of U.S. venues and the important matches coming up in 2013.

My best guess at the moment: you won’t see one of the World Cup qualifiers there in 2013, but there is a Gold Cup tournament to be played.

(MORE: Sunil Gulati on venue selection for World Cup final round qualifying)

Last time Seattle hosted the national team, by the way: during the 2009 Gold Cup.

Chinese clubs to pay 100% tax on foreign transfers

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The days of Chinese Super League sides spending eye-popping figures on a handful of international superstars are over — either that, or those figures are about to double — for now, at least.

[ MORE: Oscar given 8-game ban for petulant display in China ]

China’s Football Association announced Thursday that, effective immediately, any foreign player signed for a fee exceeding $6.63 million would be subject to a 100-percent tax on top of the fee paid to acquire the player. The tax will remain in effect until the end of China’s ongoing transfer window, July 14. The tax will also apply to Chinese players signed for a fee exceeding $3 million.

It’s Chinese authorities’ latest attempt to prevent big spending by CSL clubs, which has in every instance been detrimental to the development of young Chinese players making their way through the academy system. The taxed money will then be reinvested in “youth training, construction of public sporting facilities and scientific progress in football development,” according to a statement by the CFA.

Just last week, China was eliminated from contention to qualify for next summer’s World Cup in Russia. The only time China has ever qualified for the World Cup was in 2002.

Young Englishman Oxford goes abroad, to Gladbach, on loan

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MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany (AP) Borussia Moenchengladbach has signed English central defender Reece Oxford on loan for the season from Premier League club West Ham.

Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl says “Oxford has gone through all the England youth teams and is one of the biggest defensive talents in Britain.”

The 18-year-old Oxford, who spent the second half of last season on loan at second-division club Reading, is Gladbach’s fifth arrival of the off-season.

Qatar stadium safety concerns again raised by death investigation

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An investigation into why a British man fell to his death on a building site for the 2022 Qatar soccer World Cup has raised concerns about stadium roof safety.

World Cup organizers on Thursday released partial findings of an assessment of the accident at the Khalifa International Stadium, but said the full report cannot be released while local authorities continue their own investigation. It is one of two work-related deaths detailed in Qatar’s latest welfare report on preparations for the 2022 soccer tournament, which currently involves 12,367 workers on eight construction sites.

The 40-year-old British man fell 39 meters in January after one end of the roof catwalk he was installing dropped and a safety rope snapped.

“During the course of the investigation, the team had raised concerns with the method of installation of the raised catwalk system,” the welfare report from Qatar’s World Cup organizers stated. “This required further investigation regarding the method itself and the supervision skills of the specialist contractor staff.”

It has led to “corrective and preventative actions” being implemented by the contractor, a joint venture between Belgian and Qatari firms, along with safety checks across all stadium sites, the report said.

“These included a review of all working-at-height activities across all SC projects, an enhanced process when reviewing specialist activities within construction sites, and a detailed review of all roof and gantry designs,” the Supreme Committee overseeing stadium projects added.

The British man is the only European working on Qatar stadiums to have died in a country relying on a low-paid migrant workforce from south Asia to prepare for the first World Cup in the Middle East. Six non-work related deaths have been announced by organizers, with most suffering from heart or breathing problems.

Hassan Al Thawadi, the supreme committee’s secretary general, said medical staff are trying to raise awareness of the “importance of healthy lifestyles” by evaluating diets and identifying health issues, including hypertension and diabetes. Cooling helmets have also been developed in an attempt to make it safer for workers on outdoor sites during the searing summer heat.

World Cup preparations have been dogged by concerns about the welfare of workers since the natural gas-rich Gulf nation won the FIFA vote in 2010. Mounting international pressure led to Qatar raising living standards and worker rights. Inspections led to three contractors being blacklisted and 14 entities “demobilized” from projects for failing to tackle welfare issues, the World Cup report reveals.

“There is still work to be done to ensure our workers’ welfare standards continue to have a tangible impact on the ground and we are comprehensive in our attempts to tackle the myriad of issues facing migrant workers across the SC program,” Khalid Al-Kubaisi, who oversees worker welfare at the Supreme Committee, said in a statement.

The report has been released as Qatar is gripped by a diplomatic crisis that has seen it isolated in the region. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar earlier this month and blocked air, sea and land traffic over its support for Islamist groups and ties with Iran. Qatar denies the charges and says the allegations are politically motivated.

Official (finally): Salah completes move from Roma to Liverpool

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It was the summer’s first transfer rumor-turned-real-story-turned-never-ending-saga that seemed to refuse to cross the finish line, but it’s finally come to pass: Mohamed Salah is a Liverpool player.

Salah’s move from Roma to Liverpool took so long to complete that the club’s poor social-media manager probably never wants to read the words “Announce Salah” for the rest of his/her life.

The deal will cost Liverpool something in the neighborhood of $50 million — a new Liverpool club record — and completes the utterly terrifying attacking quartet Jurgen Klopp can’t wait to unleash on the Premier League come August — Salah on one side, Sadio Mane opposite, Philippe Coutinho in the middle, and Roberto Firmino at striker. Salah, by the way, will take over Firmino’s no. 11 shirt, with the Brazilian switching to no. 9.