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U.S. Soccer presidential candidate Q&A: Kyle Martino

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PST is vetting the candidates to succeed Sunil Gulati as president of the United States Soccer Federation. This post speaks with Kyle Martino — the broadcaster and former MLS midfielder — about his candidacy. His website is Everyonesgameusa.com.

As U.S. Soccer enters arguably its most critical juncture in recent history, Kyle Martino aims to become the voice of the American soccer community, while implementing several new measures to enhance the game nationwide.

For years, promotion and relegation has divided those within the U.S. soccer landscape, from MLS executives all the way down to supporters of the league and other leagues. However, Martino is not only candid about the conversation — but also insistent on the fact that others begin to have rational discussions about it as well.

[ MORE: PST’s Q&A with USSF presidential candidate Eric Wynalda ]

The 36-year-old — who has seen first-hand the benefits of pro/rel in countries like England — believes the topic of conversation is one that needs to be had and will only enhance the growth of soccer in the United States.

His Progress Plan, which was released to provide more detail regarding his platform ahead of this month’s election, dives further into the topic of pro/rel. That includes a plan to implement the system into the U.S. Soccer landscape on a trial basis as early as 2024, which Martino notes would likely begin with USL and NASL.

“For me it’s pretty surprising that such a compelling, competitive argument cannot be discussed unemotionally,” Martino told Pro Soccer Talk. “The game has grown in soccer cultures around the world and I think it’s important to do two things: first, why it isn’t possible to do it here and understand with our unique landscape, one that has seen a professional league collapse in our lifetime, how we can make soccer the best it can be. It’s important to see why these decisions in the past have affected things and how our current structure has seen a growth in our first division.

“I think we need to have the discussion about ‘is there a better way?’ And to me, I think there is a better way, where there’s a merit-based soccer landscape that accomplishes two things. You are going to be able to reach different markets that normally would go untapped with expansion in the first division. Overnight we’re not going to spend per team what the Premier League spends or La Liga spends or Bundesliga spends.

“The way you get people excited. The way you grow the soccer culture here is through affinity. Affinity happens locally. When I grow up, there was no professional league for many years, and then I celebrated teams like the Bridgeport Italians and the Brooklyn Italians, which were amateur teams in my neighborhood.  I know millions of fans are supporting their local teams as well, and want to believe that there is a possible move upward in mobility for their club.

“I think it’s integral that the people that have helped grow Major League Soccer throughout its expansion are willing to come to the table and have mature conversations about the merit of promotion/relegation.”

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In a time where the North American Soccer League (NASL) is still involved in a fierce legal struggle against the U.S. Soccer Federation, the potential implementation of pro/rel seems like an eternity away given the uncertainty of NASL.

With U.S. Soccer having denied Division 2 sanctioning in 2017 — which sparked the NASL’s legal measures — the league’s status is far from assured moving forward. Teams like Indy Eleven and more recently, Miami FC and the Jacksonville Armada, have sought refuge in other leagues to preserve their ability to continue playing.

Martino remains confident though that NASL will be able to coexist with its adversaries in the future. It’s simply a matter of having the right people in place to continue a very complex, and at times, heated conversation.

“The most important thing is finding out whether everyone is capable of getting back to the table to have these discussions,” Martino said. “Then you need to have a plan. I’m the only one with a vision moving forward in terms of a substantive resolution and how I’m going to lead.

“Pro/rel is a part of that plan. It’s a part of my plan. I know that this topic is one that a lot of people want to see happen sooner than I have planned, but what I have to say to that is ‘please come up with a better strategy.’ That has been what’s so frustrating about this topic though, is that it’s such an important one.

“I hear a lot of people screaming, and I feel like if they’re willing to put down their pitchforks and instead pick up a pen that we could be having a much more substantial conversation. We need many good ideas, which should range from doing it tomorrow to doing it across the U.S. Soccer landscape by 2030.”

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That 2030 estimated timeline proposed by Martino may seem like an eternity away, but by that point, the United States could potentially have hosted its second World Cup in the nation’s history. At least, that’s the plan.

The U.S., in conjunction with Mexico and Canada, have been preparing its United bid to bring the World Cup back to North America in 2026 on the heels of the U.S. Men’s National Team missing out on the biggest global soccer competition for the first time in over 30 years.

To this point, only Morocco is poised to challenge the United bid for the right to host in eight years’ time.

While political turmoil has raised questions about the U.S.’ ability to host the competition, Martino is not only confident about the bid the bring the World Cup back to the U.S., but also believes the joint-bid exemplifies what has made this nation so great for so long.

“I think that our bid is representative about what makes our country so great,” Martino told PST. “When leadership makes comments that disappoints us you know that it’s not what our country represents. This country is about opportunity and how beautifully multi-cultural it is.

“Sharing the opportunity to host the greatest sports tournament in the world with our neighbors in Canada and Mexico — that United bid — is a message that rises above comments that could be made in Congress.

“Obviously we are uniquely-positioned because the tournament looks like it will be expanded and bigger by the time 2026 comes around, but we could host the World Cup tomorrow if we wanted to. The infrastructure that we have in this country is amazing, and Mexico and Canada share a lot of those capabilities.

“We still, to this date, have the highest-attended World Cup back in 1994. A World Cup is obviously an economic boost and puts a spotlight on a nation — or in this case three nations — for a summer, but it has a ripple effect across the global sports landscape. A tournament in the U.S. in 2026 would create a windfall of revenue that could be reinvested in the game all over the world, which is really what this sport is all about.”

Martino’s confidence in his platform and ability to evoke change has driven him to a point where he believes he can fully challenge for the seat of U.S. Soccer president.

From discussions with youth clubs nationwide to some of Major League Soccer’s biggest stars (which include endorsements from players like Dax McCarty and Sacha Kljestan), the former player believes it’s very possible that he will be the one to steer American soccer down the right path.

Money from Wembley replay will “support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years”

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Worst-case scenario for Tottenham Hotspur: drawing League One side Rochdale in Sunday’s FA Cup fifth-round clash; best-case scenario for the Dale: drawing the Premier League giants and forcing a replay at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

For a club the size of Rochdale — 10,200-seat stadium, and never been above the third tier of English soccer — the financial impact of raking in half of the game’s gate receipts “will support the club for the next two or three years,” according to manager Keith Hill — quotes from the Guardian:

“I don’t know how much it is worth but a lot of money has gone into the new pitch. That was a heavy investment for us. Hopefully the money we make will support the club for the next two or three years. We will cut our cloth accordingly and we won’t be in debt.”

As for Steve Davies’ 93rd-minute equalizer, Hill was adamant that it was nothing short of what they “deserved”:

“It was a feeling of reward, not relief, because the performance deserved at least the opportunity for us to go to Wembley for a replay. I’ve always wanted to do that against a Premier League team and manager. Why not take them on and try to win? It could have been football suicide but I thought we gained their respect and to score the goal we did was tremendous. The players were magnificent.”

Tottenham Hotspur, soccer philanthropists.

Try, try again: Messi seeks 1st goal vs. Chelsea in 9th attempt

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LONDON (AP) As unlikely as it sounds, Lionel Messi is still waiting to score his first goal against Chelsea after drawing a blank in eight previous Champions League matches.

The five-time World Player of the Year is likely to get another chance to break his duck this week and Chelsea manager Antonio Conte believes the past will count for little when Barcelona visits Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

“I hope we maintain this tradition but we are speaking about a fantastic player,” Conte said ahead of the last-16, first-leg Champions League game. “The most important thing is the present.

“We must have great respect but at the same time we must be excited to play this type of game and take on this type of challenge. It won’t be easy because we know very well this player, we are talking about one of the best in the world.”

The teams have produced some epic games in the past although they have not met in the Champions League since Chelsea pulled off a remarkable backs-to-the-wall semifinal victory over Barcelona on the way to winning the trophy in 2012.

Messi missed a penalty in the second leg at the Nou Camp as the London club overcame the first-half dismissal of captain John Terry, and a 2-0 deficit, to draw the game 2-2 and secure an unforgettable 3-2 aggregate win.

Bayern Munich hosts Besiktas in Tuesday’s other game while the following day sees Manchester United traveling to Sevilla, and Shakhtar Donetsk playing host to Roma.

Two weeks ago, the prospect of a Chelsea win over Barca would have been unthinkable after Conte’s men had slumped to successive defeats by two of the Premier League’s lesser lights.

The London club was still smarting from a 3-0 home loss against Bournemouth when it traveled to Watford and succumbed to an embarrassing 4-1 reverse.

Chelsea has got back on track since then, though, easing past West Bromwich Albion 3-0 in the league last Monday before swatting aside second-tier Hull 4-0 in the FA Cup four days later.

Conte has several selection dilemmas. He must choose between captain Gary Cahill and Antonio Rudiger for a place at the back, and between Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud up front.

Cesc Fabregas will also be desperate to play against his former team but may have to settle for a spot on the bench.

Barca has lost only once in 38 matches this season since falling in the Spanish Super Cup to Real Madrid in August. It has a seven-point lead at the top of La Liga and has reached the final of the Copa del Rey.

Messi is having another stellar campaign, scoring 27 times in all competitions, and he helped set up two goals in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Eibar.

Philippe Coutinho is ineligible for Barca following his move from Liverpool.

Mourinho claiming injury crisis ahead of CL showdown

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The next three weeks will go a long way toward defining Jose Mourinho’s second season at Manchester United, with the Red Devils facing not only fellow top-four aspirers Chelsea and Liverpool, but also contesting their Champions League round-of-16 tie with Sevilla.

[ MORE: VAR provider admits incorrect graphic displayed on TV ]

Thus, it’s not exactly the most convenient time for the words “injury crisis” to rear their ugly heads yet again, but that’s the challenge Mourinho claims he faces ahead of Wednesday’s CL clash.

Paul Pogba missed Saturday’s FA Cup victory with a last-minute illness; Marcus Rashford is dealing with a leg injury and remains questionable, as are Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia; Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Marouane Fellaini are all but officially out, according to Mourinho — quotes from ESPN.co.uk:

“I didn’t rest one single player so we had today every player available here. I didn’t rest anyone. I brought two kids that played on Friday 90 minutes [for the under-23s] because I don’t have another player, so we arrive at this crucial moment with some problems.”

“Can we recover some of them to Wednesday? I believe so. I think Rashford, Herrera, Valencia — I think they have a chance.

“Paul, I don’t know. Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Marouane, Zlatan — I don’t think they have any chance.”

Mourinho dealt with a similar rash of injuries very late on last season, as his side barreled its way into, and eventually won, the Europa League final, securing a place in the CL this season. With a top-four finish all but out of reach at the time, Mourinho opted to rest his bare-bones group of first-team regulars in Premier League action and prioritize Europe’s “other” competition.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

This time around, United sit second in the PL table, just four points clear of fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur, and the path to winning the CL will prove far more difficult than taking on the likes of Saint-Etienne, Rostov, Anderlecht, Celta Vigo and Ajax.

Serie A: Napoli, Juve hold serve in 1-point title race

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona now 31 games unbeaten | Real Madrid 17 points behind ]

Napoli 1-0 SPAL 2013

The battle for Serie A supremacy isn’t ending anytime soon, as Napoli and Juventus continue to match one another (nine straight wins for each side) in Europe’s only remaining major title race.

On Sunday, they even traded 1-0 victories — Napoli at home to SPAL 2013, with Juve triumphing over Torino in the Turin derby.

Brazilian midfielder Allan bagged the only goal for Napoli after just six minutes, finishing off a mesmerizing, free-flowing move that’s become synonymous with Napoli this season. The video-assisting referee came into play just after the hour mark, when Marek Hamsik headed home to make it 2-0 before the VAR wiped it away for offside.

Napoli’s current nine-game winning streak is the longest in club history.

Torino 0-1 Juventus

Juve’s victory came at something of a cost, though, as star striker Gonzalo Higuain was lost to an ankle injury after just a quarter-hour (the injury occurred after just three minutes), followed by a potentially serious knee injury for Federico Bernardeschi, who replaced Higuain, in second-half stoppage time. Higuain isn’t expected to miss significant time, with the club calling it a twisted ankle.

In between the injuries came Alex Sandro‘s 33rd-minute winner, a tap-in from close range masterfully set up by Bernardeschi. One additional positive for Juve: Sunday also saw Paulo Dybala return after missing five weeks with a hamstring injury. The Argentine star entered as a second-half substitute.

“Paulo played 30 minutes at a good level,” Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri said. “I’m pleased with his and everyone else’s performance. This is a good result against a well-organized Torino side.”

Elsewhere in Serie A

AC Milan 1-0 Sampdoria
Atalanta 1-1 Fiorentina
Bologna 2-1 Sassuolo
Benevento 3-2 Crotone