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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.

FOLLOW LIVE: West leaders SKC host East’s 2nd-best Crew SC

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KANSAS CITY, KAN. — Western Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City host Columbus Crew SC, the Eastern Conference’s second-place side, at Children’s Mercy Park on Sunday with both sides capable of overtaking Atlanta United for top spot in the Supporters’ Shield race.

[ FOLLOW: SKC vs. Crew SC in top-of-the-table clash ]

Sporting KC, who are unbeaten in three straight and have lost just once since opening day (11 games), lead expansion side Los Angeles FC in the West. Meanwhile, Crew SC enter Sunday’s top-of-the-table clash unbeaten in their last six games (four wins) and trail the league leaders from Atlanta by a single point.

Hit the link above to follow along throughout the afternoon, and check back with PST for coverage after the final whistle.

Ronaldo staying at Real Madrid: ‘See you next year’

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MADRID (AP) — For a third straight year, Real Madrid are celebrating a European title with their fans.

Madrid brought the Champions League trophy home on Sunday and paraded it through the streets of the Spanish capital as thousands of fans saluted the newly crowned champions.

[ MORE: Ronaldo hints at Real Madrid exit | Bale does the same ]

Madrid was back in Spain after winning its 13th European title with a 3-1 win over Liverpool in Kiev on Saturday.

Players and team members participated in a ceremony at a local cathedral. After this they met with the city mayor and community president before addressing fans from a terrace at the Puerta del Sol square, one of Madrid’s main locations.

“It has become a routine to be here,” captain Sergio Ramos said. “Hopefully it will continue for many years.”

Cristiano Ronaldo, who after the final hinted he could be leaving Madrid, heard fans asking him to stay at the club.

“Thank you for all of your support,” Ronaldo told the crowd. “We made history, it’s time to be happy.”

The team then got on an open bus and paraded with the trophy until reaching the club’s traditional celebration spot, the Plaza de Cibeles, where fans had been waiting for the champions for hours.

[ UCL FINAL: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

The players chanted “Campeones, Campeones” and “We Are Kings of Europe” along with the fans. Ramos and Marcelo carried the trophy across the walkway set up over the plaza’s fountain and draped the statue of the goddess Cibele with a Spain flag that carried Madrid’s name on it. Ramos also put a team scarf around the goddess’ head to huge cheers from the crowd as the song “We Are The Champions” was played.

The next stop was due to be the team’s Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, where nearly 80,000 fans were expected to attend a ceremony honoring the European champions.

The stadium was packed on Saturday with fans watching the match on eight big screens set up at midfield. Confetti blasted from a stage behind the screens when the players lifted the trophy in Ukraine.

Thousands had already made it to the Plaza de Cibeles right after the game in celebrations that lasted into the early hours of Sunday.

Madrid has won the Champions League in four of the last five years. It had beaten Juventus last season, and city rival Atletico Madrid in finals in 2014 and 2016.

Preview: USMNT hosts Bolivia in shadows of World Cup hype

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With the rest of the world’s premier soccer nations gearing up for next month’s World Cup in Russia, the U.S. men’s national team is set to host fellow non-qualifiers Bolivia in a futile friendly at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Penn., on Monday (6:30 p.m. ET), the Yanks’ fourth time out since that infamous night in Trinidad.

[ MORE: Ben Olsen confirms D.C. United’s interest in Wayne Rooney ]

Five days later (Saturday, June 2), they’ll face Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, followed by a trip to Lyon, France, to face World Cup-bound Les Bleus (June 9).

Youth movement continues

Once again, the likes of Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard — senior figures for the last decade-plus — are nowhere to be found as Dave Sarachan completes his sentence tenure as interim head coach following Bruce Arena’s resignation in November. Back for the first time is 19-year-old Christian Pulisic, native of nearby Hershey, Penn., who with 20 caps is the joint-most veteran member (Joe Corona) of the squad.

Average age of the 22-man roster: 22.8 years old.

“As I’ve talked about throughout this process, the theme is to offer opportunity to this younger generation of talented players that have potential down the road with the program,” Sarachan said this week. “We’ve had first-time call-ups in every camp since November, and this is another extension of that. We’re going into the Bolivia game with newer faces along with a few familiar players as well.”

[ MORE: Ronaldo hints at Real Madrid exit | Bale does the same ]

Youngsters forging careers in Europe

The just-completed 2017-18 season was a promising, encouraging one for a number of American youngsters — some not named Pulisic, even — plying their trade for a number of sides around Europe.

22-year-old defender Matt Miazga completed his second season on loan to Vitesse, made 36 appearances between August and May (43 in all competitions), and played a pivotal part in the Eredivisie side qualifying for next season’s Europa League. Come this August, he’ll be hoping to impress Antonio Conte(‘s successor) and win his place in the Chelsea squad.

19-year-old midfielder Weston McKennie made 22 Bundesliga appearances (13 starts), plus another three in the DFB Pokal cup competition, for second-place Schalke. After undergoing surgery for a knee injury in January, McKennie returned in March to reclaim a full-time spot in the gameday squad and a semi-regular place in the starting lineup.

21-year-old forward Andrija Novakovich, another Yank out on loan (from Reading) this season, bagged 21 goals in 37 league appearances for second-division Dutch side Telstar en route to an appearance in the promotion playoffs. Novakovich made his USMNT debut against Paraguay in March.

20-year-old defender Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur) saw first-team action this season while on loan to Championship side Sheffield Wednesday; 21-year-old defender Erik Palmer-Brown signed for Premier League champions Manchester City in January and spent the final four months of the season on loan to Belgian side Kortrijk; 18-year-old forward Tim Weah made his first-team debut for Paris Saint-Germain in March and made his first Ligue 1 start earlier this month.

[ UCL FINAL: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

Potential lineup

—– Hamid —–

—- Lichaj —- Miazaga —- Zimmerman —- Villafaña —-

—- Gooch —- McKennie —- 

—- Rubin —- Pulisic —- Weah —- 

—- Novakovich —-

Neymar appears in good shape after Brazil training week

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TERESOPOLIS, Brazil (AP) Neymar has finished his first full week of training with Brazil in apparent good shape ahead of the upcoming World Cup after foot surgery.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from Real vs. Liverpool ]

The striker continued his recovery Saturday in Brazil’s last training session on home soil before setting camp in London on Monday.

Brazilian football confederation footage shows Neymar passing and dribbling at high speed in training that was closed to the media.

The Brazilian has been recovering from right foot surgery in March.

Brazil players will be off duty until Sunday morning. They travel to London hours later.