The issue of continental World Cup berths taking center stage again

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Two things to know about Sepp Blatter’s recent advocacy for better continental balance among World Cup spots:

First, it’s about politics. (It is always, thought?)  Remember, Blatter recently said he would seek a fifth term as FIFA president, never mind those promises to step down in 2015.

Second, it’s a very bad idea. As I always say, never underestimate the power of a really bad idea – especially one that gets dragged into a political dogfight.

Speaking recently in Asia, Blatter lamented that Europe and South America would gobble up 19 of the 32 berths for World Cup 2014.

We have to get a better balance. You are a powerhouse. You must be aware that you are a powerhouse … If you have the same number of participants from all continents then there is a balance of strength and a balance of forces … There is no chance to kick them [Europeans or South Americans] out before one of them is in the semifinals.”

All you really need to know is that Asia’s voting could be critical to Blatter’s reach for an unprecedented and highly controversial fifth term in FIFA’s highest seat. So, of course he wants more spots for Asia! Just as he will bang the drum for greater CONCACAF participation when he shifts focus on that voting block. Same for Africa, surely, when he gets around to it.

The problem, of course, is that more Asian teams, more teams from the relatively tiny Oceania confederation and more teams from our own region serve only to water down the World Cup field.

It is always fair to debate the dispersal of those 32 World Cup berths. Should half the South American nations get in? Does CONCACAF deserve fewer spots? Does Africa, with 56 nations, deserve more?

But the discussion should be based on data and whatever competitive criteria we can reasonably develop (which is admittedly tricky, since there is but one intercontinental competition that matters, the World Cup itself).

In this piece, the Guardian’s Jonathan Wilson looks at the current dispersal of berths and the history of success of the lesser confederations. It’s involved, but it’s a good read. Maybe someone can email it to Blatter.

FIFA fines Qatar after players’ political support for Emir

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has fined Qatar’s soccer federation after national team players breached rules against political statements by displaying T-shirts of the country’s Emir at a World Cup qualifier.

FIFA says its disciplinary panel imposed a 50,000 Swiss francs ($51,800) fine and reprimanded Qatar, the 2022 World Cup host.

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The incident happened in Doha on June 13, amid a dispute with regional rivals Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

Qatar’s players warmed up for a 3-2 win over South Korea wearing white T-shirts with an image of Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani to show their support for him.

FIFA says the charges related to “displaying a political image” and “political displays” by spectators.

Report: USMNT’s Arriola drawing transfer interest abroad, in MLS

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Paul Arriola’s motor was constantly running as the United States men’s national team claimed its sixth Gold Cup title, and it could drive him all the way from Club Tijuana to Europe or a prime spot on an MLS roster.

There’s a snag, though.

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Arriola is reportedly wanted by Real Salt Lake and clubs in both the Netherlands and Portugal, but the LA Galaxy has what Goal.com describes a “dubious homegrown player” claim on Arriola, who participated in a minimal of practices with the Galaxy when he was younger.

As you’ll see below, there isn’t much “homegrown” about it and, to its critics, it is peak MLS monopolized tomfoolery. Here’s how Goal describes it:

“He was already a U.S. youth national team player when he traveled the 120 miles from Chula Vista to take part in a handful of training sessions with the LA Galaxy academy and eventually the Galaxy first team.

“The Galaxy are believed to hold a homegrown player claim on Arriola, and would have the right of first refusal on making Arriola an offer if he comes to MLS. The Galaxy’s current salary-cap situation might not allow them to make a serious bid for Arriola.”

But… here’s how the Galaxy described his choosing to sign for TJ instead of a pro deal from LA in 2013:

“It’s a little disappointing,” Galaxy technical director Jovan Kirovski told MLSsoccer.com by phone on Friday. “He went through our system, we offered him a contract and he decided to move on and go somewhere else. But that’s going to happen. It’s something that has happened before, and it’s something that will happen again.”

Arriola’s response in the same article? “I thank the Galaxy for giving me a wonderful opportunity to train with their first team and be a part of their first team which really taught me a lot.” That doesn’t read as much like he “went through their system.” He played in at least one U-18 game, debuting in October 2012, did more training with TJ in December 2012, and signed for the Mexican side in May 2013.

Should that qualify him as Homegrown?

https://www.transfermarkt.com/paul-arriola/leistungsdaten/spieler/189876

Did Arriola spent significant time with LA, or is it possible the Galaxy might reap rewards from having an already established youth national teamer to practice when he was a kid? Whether you’re okay with that or not, consider that it encourages clubs to pilfer rights without actually registering or training the player.

Not to mention there is no guarantee that playing in the Netherlands or Portugal will be better for his development than MLS. Benfica or Ajax and potential action in European tournaments? Maybe. NAC Breda or Tondela? Maybe not.

Nevermind the quagmire that is American youth soccer clubs’ not earning money from transfer fees, the Arriola drama seems baseless. We don’t know the Galaxy will hold the player hostage, but they would actually be depriving MLS of a talent, as LA would theoretically get nothing should TJ sell him to a European club.

In any event, check out Arriola’s use chart from Tijuana and you’ll see why he’s valued by Bruce Arena as well as his suitors. He’s a Swiss Army Knife. Here’s hoping Tinseltown doesn’t stop him from a proper next step (assuming he’s ready to leave Liga MX).