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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.

Lletget and Dos Santos send Galaxy through past Minnesota United

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The fans were buzzing at Allianz Field as Minnesota United got its first playoff campaign under way at home, but the jubilation didn’t last long as the LA Galaxy spoiled the party with a 2-1 win over the wasteful hosts. Sebastian Lletget and Jonathan dos Santos were on hand to lift the visitors on a night to forget for strikers on both sides.

Just seven minutes in the porous LA Galaxy defense parted beautifully for Minnesota, but the home side couldn’t capitalize. On the break a wonderful cross reached Angelo Rodriguez with the goal gaping, but he completely whiffed on the chance with Dave Bingham charging.

The home side produced much of the attacking intent through the first half-hour, and again nearly went in front as Robin Lod blasted over the bar with a glorious chance to smash home the opener. Bingham turned sweeper keeper to smother another chance minutes before the break as a ball long for Ethan Finlay got behind the Galaxy defense.

After the break, Minnesota again had a chance to go in front as Romain Metanire sent in a delicious ball in front of net, but Rodriguez couldn’t head on target, flailing at the ball and ending up with his back to the net when he made contact. The Galaxy’s best chance of the first hour fell to Zlatan Ibrahimovic who found himself all alone near the far post on a corner, but he too flubbed the chance, unable to make solid contact while instead sending the ball skittering out of play off the side of his foot.

With strikers on both sides struggling mightily to make the most of chances, the LA Galaxy went in front against the run of play. Christian Pavon found Zlatan all alone about six yards in front of net, and while his shot was blocked, the rebound fell right to the feet of a charging Lletget who deposited his chance in a game begging for a finish.

Ibrahimovic’s struggles continued as his one-on-one chance with Vito Mannone was smothered by the goalkeeper, but moments later Jonathan dos Santos produced a wonderful curler that Mannone couldn’t reach and put the Galaxy 2-0 up.

There was still hope for Minnesota as they got a consolation with four minutes to go as Jan Gregus pulled one back for the hosts with a vicious low strike that rocketed into the bottom corner for the first real moment of tenacity up front for Minnesota United. Unfortunately, that would be it for the visitors as they sent Mannone forward for a late corner but nothing came of it and the final whistle blew.

The Galaxy move on to a dream matchup with their neighbors LAFC, while Minnesota United falls for the first time in 13 home games and their season comes to an end.

Rumblings that Real Madrid has contact with Jose Mourinho

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Real Madrid sits second in the La Liga table and has only just lost its first league match of the season, but manager Zinedine Zidane is reportedly already on the hot seat.

With a loss to Mallorca this weekend adding to a pair of Champions League disappointments to start group stage play, Zidane’s status is in question. While there is nothing from the more concrete sources, Spanish tabloids have begun to whisper that the club has been in contact with former manager Jose Mourinho, as Florentino Perez has flirted multiple times with returning the Portuguese boss to the Spanish capital over the last 12 months.

El Churingito reports that with Zidane under pressure, Perez has reached out to Moruinho to judge his interest in the position. The two have a history, with Mourinho taking charge of the side from 2010-2013 before a mutual split after what Mourinho called “the worst [season] of my career.” The reports state that Mourinho has a great relationship with Perez which could convince him to return. Rumors of his return are not new, as two months ago another tabloid report claimed an eventual reunion was possible.

Mourinho has been out of the game since he left Manchester United in December, serving as a pundit in a number of different capacities. At Old Trafford, Mourinho was unable to help the Red Devils return to the glory days of Sir Alex Ferguson, plagued by negative tactics and inconsistent results.

This season, Madrid has fallen victim to poor defending and a lack of finishing. Luka Jovic has not enjoyed a flying start to his Madrid career, while Gareth Bale again has found himself injured. Raphael Varane was benched for the Mallorca match in favor of Eder Militao and Dani Carvajal was rested, but a seventh minute Lago Junior goal was enough to down the giants. Carvajal’s stand-in Alvaro Odriozola was sent off in the 74th minute, making things even more difficult. With the club failing to win either of its first two European matches against PSG and Club Brugge, the pressure has risen on Zidane despite his past successes with the club.

La Liga: Sevilla squeaks by Levante, La Real back to winning ways

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Real Sociedad put its two-game losing streak to bed and remained in the mix at the top of the La Liga table, turning around an early 1-0 deficit and winning 3-1 at home over Real Betis.

Lorenzo Moron scored 12 minutes in for the visitors, but a Javi Garcia own-goal leveled the score while Willian Jose and Portu sealed the three points. Martin Odegaard was fantastic again for La Real, constantly proving a threat in the buildup. Man of the Match, however, was Mikel Merino who was active in the midfield and popped up occasionally in the attacking third. The win pushes La Real up to fourth in the table, two points behind second-placed Real Madrid and three back of leaders Barcelona.

Sevilla was held for 86 minutes at home by Levante, but Luuk De Jong gave the hosts all three points as he rose high above Erick Cabaco to head home Jesus Navas’s cross from deep. Sevilla held over 60% possession throughout the match and racked up nine corners to Levante’s one, but didn’t create much in front of net until the final 15 minutes. Chicharito and De Jong both missed within two minutes of each other, and the latter eventually converted to push Sevilla to sixth in the La Liga table.

Alaves picked up a big three points over Celta Vigo with a 2-0 home win on second half goals from Lisandro Magallan and Lucas Perez. The visitors managed just two shots on target and had just one clear cut chance that Santi Mina failed to put on frame seconds out of halftime. Former Newcastle striker Joselu had a bad miss past the half-hour mark but proved a threat for much of the match, ripping off six shots on his own. Alaves also picked up five yellow cards in the match, but ultimately jumped out of the relegation zone and past Celta Vigo into 14th.

Villareal moved to seventh in the table with a 1-0 road victory at Espanyol. Cameroon international Karl Toko Ekambi scored his third goal of the season in the 17th minute and the visiting defense spoiled the Espanyol attack all game long. The hosts put forth 18 shots but managed to get just three of them on target. Santi Cazorla has been stellar all season for Villareal, and he went the full 90 minutes again, not adding much up front but proving a menace in midfield.

Athletic Club drew 1-1 with Real Valladolid as Inaki Williams put Athletic up just after the half-hour mark, but an Inigo Martinez own-goal pegged them back with 20 minutes to go. Athletic popped off 17 shots to Real Valladolid’s seven but Jordi Masip made six saves in net for Real Valladolid to spoil the home side’s day, leaving Athletic in eighth with 13 points.

Fabian downs Red Bulls in extra time, sends Philadelphia to conference semis

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A wild and wacky game saw Philadelphia come from two goals down to force extra time, and Marco Fabian bagged the eventual winner in the 105th minute to put the Union into the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 4-3 win. The victory is the first in playoff action for the Union in club history.

New York held a 3-1 advantage at halftime as Josh Sims, Tim Parker, and Tom Barlow all found the back of the net for the visitors in the opening 45 minutes, while Alejandro Bedoya found the back of the net himself.

After the break, things got even more wild. New York coughed up the lead, with Jack Elliott and Fabrice Picault each striking once despite a solid display from Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles. With the game level, the final 15 minutes were all Philadelphia as the Eastern Conference three seed peppered New York’s penalty area, but Robles made a fabulous save on a Jamiro Monteiro effort from point blank range at the back post.

In extra time, Fabian found the back of the net with what appeared to be a chipped cross that took a slight deflection and snuck into the top corner from a tight angle.

The Union will get a matchup with Atlanta United in the semifinals, after Frank De Boer engineered a 1-0 win over New England.