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What rumored Wicky departure could mean for U.S. Soccer

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On the recommendation of highly-rated soccer organization company Double Pass, U.S. Soccer created five new youth national team programs to address gaps between the Under-17s, Under-20s and Under-23s. With eight national team programs, it put U.S. Soccer in line with the rest of the world’s soccer powers as far as being on a level playing field for youth development.

And yet, if the rumors about Raphael Wicky are true, U.S. Soccer will have eight full-time youth coaching vacancies.

[READ: American investment firm unlikely to purchase Newcastle]

With the Chicago Fire hiring Swiss national and former FC Basel sporting director Georg Heitz to the same role, there’s been talk that Wicky could follow Heitz back to MLS, and across town, after a short stint with U.S. Soccer. In one sense, Wicky’s departure wouldn’t be that surprising. In his first cycle as the head coach of the U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team, he led the U.S. to the final of the 2019 CONCACAF U-17 Championship, but his squad flamed out at the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup, getting bounced in the group stage. It could make sense that the former FC Basel manager would look forward to coaching adults again after working back with the youth players.

But if Wicky leaves, it would leave U.S. Soccer without a single full-time coach in their youth programs, which is a further gut punch to USMNT fans who see the USMNT program in an atmosphere of total negativity. Jason Kreis, who works full-time with Inter Miami CF in an undefined role in the technical department, is the U.S. Under-23 MNT coach. Steve Klein, an academy director for PA Classics, has been stepping in to be the Under-15 Boys National Team coach.

It’s all just incredibly sad for an organization that has slipped down, both in terms of on-field performance and administrative efforts since the summer of 2014. Say what you want about Sunil Gulati, but – even if it wasn’t his authority – he wouldn’t have let roles go unfilled for so long. Under current president Carlos Cordeiro, we’ve seen the U-19, U-16, and U-15 coaches stay open for vast amounts of time, while the long-time U.S. U-20 coach, Tab Ramos, left for his first MLS head coaching job.

Even worse, Dan Flynn, who let U.S. Soccer know for more than a year that he was going to leave the organization, finally stepped down in September of 2019. There still hasn’t been a replacement.

Ultimately, it’s unclear if having full-time coaches really matters in terms of USYNT youth development. Perhaps bringing in different voices can help players get a different perspective, and without the old U.S. Soccer residency program in Bradenton, Fla., the U.S. U-17s don’t necessarily need a steady head coach to constantly train the players.

But on the other hand, it’s the latest sign that dysfunction at the top of U.S. Soccer is making its way down, and it could certainly have harmful effects on U.S. youth development, or at least building chemistry with players who may end up suiting up for the USMNT one day.

It seems unlikely, but hopefully in the first few weeks of 2020, U.S. Soccer will be able to fill many, if not all of these vacancies, as well as work out the internal work environment problems they’re dealing with. Step No. 1? End the mandate to work in Chicago. That could start and help get more candidates excited for the job.

Belarusian Premier League roundup: BATE Borisov pick up win, end early-season drought

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The Belarusian Premier League – the only active European top-flight league at the moment – continued on Saturday despite the coronavirus pandemic.

FC Rukh 0-1 BATE Borisov

With an early goal from midfielder Stanislav Dragun, BATE Borisov, Belarus’ most successful team (15 league titles) and a regular face in European competition, earned their first win of the season. Kirill Alshevsky, who took over at the helm prior to the season, had started his spell on a two-game losing streak.

BATE, despite not winning the possession battle decisively, generated twice as many shots on target as the visitors, registering a total of 11 shots throughout 90 minutes at Borisov Arena.

A winner of 13 straight Belarusian Premier League titles – spanning from 2006 to 2018 – pressure began looming over BATE after starting the 2020 campaign with back-to-back lackluster results. BATE, who lost to Arsenal in Europa League’s Round of 32 in April 2019, were outscored 5-2 in the first, two games of the league.

Dinamo Minsk, the second most successful Belarusian side, also picked up their first three points on Friday, following a slower-than-usual start to the season. Meanwhile, defending champion Dinamo Brest fell 2-1 to Slavia-Mozyr, dropping to eighth on the table.

Elsewhere in Belarusian Premier League 

Shakhtyor 0-0 Nerman

Dinamo Brest 1-2 Slavia-Mozyr

NWSL extends league-wide training moratorium through May

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The NWSL is extending its league-wide training moratorium another month amid the coronavirus pandemic, the league announced on Saturday.

All NWSL teams will be unable to partake in team trainings until at least May 5, extending its previous training moratorium that was set to expire on Sunday, April 5. The 2020 season – which was set to start on April 18 – is expected to start by the end of June, according to NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird.

“We’ve been just communicating with our players and we’re targeting for the end of June for our season to start,” Baird told The Equalizer. “I say that with conviction and hope, but … we’re gonna adhere to the public health guidelines that are in place at the time and I don’t think that we can predict what they are. But our strategy is in place.”

Earlier this week, Major League Soccer and United Soccer League extended their training moratorium through April 24 and April 19, respectively.

Report: England manager Gareth Southgate agrees to 30 percent pay cut

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England manager Gareth Southgate has agreed to a 30 percent pay cut amid the coronavirus pandemic, our partners at Sky Sports reported on Saturday.

[ MORE: What PL clubs are doing to help during coronavirus ] 

Southgate’s move, which is reportedly expected to be confirmed by the Football Association (FA) next week, comes hours after the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) released a statement on behalf of the Premier League players responding to proposed pay cuts.

A FA spokesperson told Sky Sports the following: “The financial implications of the coronavirus are not yet known however, as a not-for-profit organization, we want to ensure that we take the appropriate course of action to support the wider organization and our employees.

“We will make a further announcement on our next steps in due course.”

On Friday, Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe – and a handful of technical staff personnel – became the first Premier League manager to take a voluntary pay cut. Howe’s “significant, voluntary” pay cuts were done in light of the club furloughing non-playing employees throughout the organization, joining Tottenham, Norwich, Newcastle and Liverpool.

Spanish league and players still far apart on salary cuts

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MADRID (AP) The Spanish league and players are still far apart on the size of the salary cuts they need to take to help reduce the financial impact caused by the coronavirus outbreak, with the footballers saying the organization wants them to carry nearly half the total losses.

The league and the players’ association have been in talks to try to find ways to mitigate losses that could reach nearly 1 billion euros ($1.08 billion) if the season cannot be restarted because of the pandemic.

The players have said they are willing to reduce their salaries, but not as much as the league or the clubs want.

“After analyzing the current circumstances of the sector and given the distance in conversations with the players’ association, it is necessary to adopt measures in view of the serious economic crisis that COVID-19 is causing in the Spanish soccer industry,” the league said in a statement.

It also added that government furloughs are “an exceptional mechanism to avoid and mitigate the negative impact that COVID-19 is having on the sector, and thus guarantee its subsequent recovery.”

According to media reports, the league expects losses of 957 million euros ($1.03 billion) if the season is canceled, with 303 million euros ($327 million) lost if it resumes with games in empty stadiums and 156 million euros ($168 million) of deficits if it continues with fans.

The players said the total cuts in salaries requested by the league would account for 451 million euros ($487 million) if the top flight cannot restart.

The reduction in salaries being discussed reportedly varies depending on the clubs, and also on whether they are playing in the Champions League or the Europa League.

Team captains met with the players’ association late Friday to discuss their options after the league earlier in the day called for all clubs to put the footballers on government furloughs to reduce labor costs while the stoppage of play continued. The furloughs help the clubs and guarantee players their jobs once the crisis is over.

The league said it is responsible for preserving an industry that represents 1.37 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product and employs about 185,000 people.

Atlético Madrid and Barcelona were among the clubs to resort to the furloughs in recent days. Both reached an agreement with players to reduce their salaries by 70 percent, and guaranteed the wages of other employees were unaffected.

There are nearly 125,000 cases of the new coronavirus in Spain, which on Saturday surpassed Italy as the country with the second-most infections behind the United States. The death toll in the nation stands at 11,744.

The government is expected to extend lockdown measures until April 26, likely keeping the Spanish league suspended until then.

The league has said the season won’t resume until authorities deem it safe for everyone’s health. It said it will recommend a “minimum of 15 days” of practice before the games can restart, though it suggested recently the training period may begin with restrictions before the lockdown is removed.

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