Will Everyone Have Their Limits?

Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA, is proving relentless in his quest for requiring clubs to be more representative of their host country.

Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA, is proving relentless in his quest for requiring clubs to be more representative of their host country.

Blatter proposes limiting teams to five on-field foreign nationals, despite facing stiff opposition from both UEFA and the European Union, which promotes the free movement of workers. Now with Blatter being backed by a vote of the FIFA Congress, the so-called “6 plus 5” rule is being slated for a 2012 start.

It’s interesting that a generation ago this rule might have had huge consequences here in the U.S. and little, if any, abroad. This time around, it’s merely amusing to Major League Soccer clubs while European powers are shuddering at the thought.

In MLS this season, there are only nine foreign players allowed per club. Last season, Houston regularly started eight Americans plus two Canadians in winning its second straight MLS Cup.

We’ve come a long, long way. Witness the New York Cosmos who, in 1978, used a single U.S. citizen in the NASL championship game.

A generation ago, the homogenous teams were found in Europe. Perhaps what bothers Blatter is the sight of Arsenal, one of England’s finest sides, often taking to the field without a single Brit.

Compounding the problem is the weakening of domestic youth development and, consequently, national teams.

At the club level it’s not a level pitch, says Fenerbahce’s coach, Zico. His Instanbul club was beaten by Chelsea in the Champions League quarterfinals, with the Blues using four Englishmen in the decisive second leg.

What does Zico want, a limit on foreigners?

No. Zico is pleading that Turkish officials swim with the tide and abolish their own limit of six foreign players.

The European Court of Justice struck down player limits in 1995, saying they infringed employment rights within the EU. At that point, the number of foreign players proliferated in the top British sides, as well as elsewhere across the continent.

FIFA and Blatter will now spend the next couple years testing the European courts. UEFA general David Taylor believes FIFA will lose, yet also concedes it’s time for clubs to become more representative of their host country.

Says Taylor: “We support the intention of the rule, to have greater training and development of young players, to have more national identity in our clubs.”

(Not) Answering the Call

Ask any player and they’ll tell you that the ultimate honor is to represent your country.

But if you ask that player’s club coach, he will be less than enthusiastic about seeing his star go missing. This is particularly true in MLS, which does not suspend its schedule for the FIFA international calendar.

For instance, this weekend marks the commencement of World Cup qualifying in CONCACAF and yet there’s a full slate of games. You won’t find Landon Donovan playing for L.A. nor Dwayne De Rosario wearing Houston’s orange. Instead they will be outfitted in the colors of the U.S. and Canada, respectively.

That leaves clubs shorthanded. In the case of Toronto FC, this weekend coach Jim Carver will be without five players who received national team call-ups. After losing several players for recent exhibitions, Carver is no longer willing to cooperate with national federations, particularly if the players are not seeing much playing time.

“I am telling you right now if it's not an international FIFA date where you have to let (players) go, they are not going,” Carver told theToronto Sun earlier this week.

“And I don't care (what country they are) or who they are playing. I am going to make a stand. I have given and given but this has hit Toronto more than anyone else.”

When Will the World Return?

It’s only a matter of time until the World Cup returns to the United States. Soon we will get a better idea of exactly when.

Bids for the 2018 Mundial are due next year, and already England has jumped in. U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati is now mulling his options.

Those include going for 2018, waiting for a sure-bet in 2022 or perhaps going into standby mode, just on the chance that either South Africa or Brazil prove unable to host the next two quadrennials.

CONCACAF president Jack Warner is sending signals that he’d favor the USA for 2022. That came in the wake of England and David Beckham paying a visit to Warner’s Trinidad & Tobago for an exhibition game.

Before that Gulati had indicated he would invite FIFA to America sooner, rather than later.

"There is not a country in the world in a better position in terms of stadium facilities and size. We could have hosted the World Cup in 1998 in stadiums that didn't even exist when we hosted it in 1994 and we could have done the same in 2002 and not use any stadiums that existed in 1998,” Gulati has told reporters.

"Every city has one: stadiums with domes that open and close, you name it. My point is that it is not a question of fearing any country. We think we'd have a great bid."

Tune in, Turn On

The games, err…matches, just keep on coming. The winner of Saturday’s (8:50 a.m., ESPN2) Sweden-Spain fixture will take over leadership of Group D at Euro 2008. Sunday’s featured game is Turkey-Czech Republic (11:45 a.m., ESPN Classic), with the loser going home.

Next week begins with Austria and Germany (11:30 a.m., ESPN2) on Monday, a battle of survival between arguably the weakest team in the finals and the now-threatened favorite. The much-anticipated deciding games of Group C come Tuesday (11:30) and the quarterfinals begin Thursday.

Elsewhere, World Cup qualifying begins for the United States on Sunday (2 p.m., ESPN2) when it meets Barbados in the first leg of their playoff.

Seek a soccer pub or satellite for next Wednesday (5:50 p.m.), when Brazil and Argentina meet for the first time since last summer’s South American championship.

For domestic club soccer, Rochester hosts Vancouver Friday night (5 p.m.) on Fox Soccer Channel and the Galaxy-Earthquakes returns to San Jose for the first time in three years Saturday (7 p.m.) on FSC.

Throw-Ins

The Sounders are idle until June 20, when they host Miami. Their next U.S. Open Cup match is June 24, at home against Hollywood United, upset victors over Portland…The Seattle women (1-1-2) play Friday at Fort Collins…Friday’s airing of the Price is Right features Sounders FC co-owner Drew Carey hosting an appearance by the U.S. women’s national team. If you miss it, either check out the show’s web site or see the clip on the U.S. Soccer web site…Kudos to former Sounder forward Brian Ching, who was named MLS Player of the week and also called up to the MNT for Saturday’s qualifier. Ching scored twice and added an assist in the 3-1 win over Toronto last week. He now has five goals…Despite the dearth of Anglo teams at Euro ’08, the tournament’s TV ratings in Britain are robust. The average audience is 3.5 million, including 7.3 million for the Holland-Italy game Monday…The All Nations Cup continues this weekend with open quarterfinals and the start of women’s and masters play at Starfire.