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SOCCER / JULIE CART : Bora Has Another Great Day

September 13, 1993|JULIE CART

U.S. Coach Bora Milutinovic was beaming, as well he should.

The ribbon had just been sliced at the door to the national soccer team's pristine 3,800-square-foot clubhouse. Behind it was the seven acres of green and manicured playing fields the national team has been using since January.

Someone, clearly an optimist, had insisted on planting the identical strain of grass that will carpet the floor of the Rose Bowl for next summer's World Cup final. The American players would be fully accustomed to playing on the surface.

What Saturday's ceremonial opening of the team's $3.3-million training center meant to Milutinovic was the most tangible symbol of his leverage with the U.S. Soccer Federation. This is a man who, off the playing field, gets what he wants.

After being hired in 1991 and moving from Mexico City to the United States, Milutinovic was told he could live anywhere he wished. He said he wanted to live burrowed into the windswept and luxurious cliffs of Laguna Niguel. Because Bora wanted to be able to drive to work, the national team has been ensconced in nearby Mission Viejo.

In addition to the first-ever national training center, he's gotten the coaches, the best of the available American players and much of schedule he's wanted. Now, said an only half-joking USSF President Alan Rothenberg, all Bora has to do is win the World Cup title. Something about paying the piper . . .

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World Cup CEO Rothenberg gave few details about the pending report to FIFA outlining plans to launch a new pro league in the United States sometime after the 1994 World Cup.

He said the target number of teams is 12, but would not say if the stronger APSL teams now operating would receive offers to join the league.

The biggest issue being discussed is the paucity of medium-sized stadiums, considered crucial to the success of the new league.

"If we weren't trying to address the stadium situation, we could have had a league plan a long time ago," Rothenberg said.

He said building 20,000 to 30,000-seat stadiums in partnerships with Division II universities was being considered.

The business plan for the unnamed league must be delivered to FIFA at the time of the World Cup draw at Las Vegas Dec. 19. Rothenberg said the plan would be more of an outline and said few specifics would be offered.

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Rothenberg said he was going to FIFA headquarters in Zurich at the end of the month for meetings. Likely to come up is the disposition of midfielder Thomas Dooley, who has played for FC Kaiserslautern in the German Bundesliga and left the team this summer as a free agent.

He signed a contract with the national team, but the USSF believes it does not have to compensate Kaiserslautern with a transfer fee. Because it is extremely rare for a professional to leave his team to play full-time for a national team, FIFA rules are vague or non-existant regarding such a transfer.

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Stop us if you've heard this before:

Maradona has announced the end of his latest retirement.

Maradona said he is "anxious to begin playing" with his new club.

Maradona pledged that by October he will be in "faultless" condition.

Having worn out his welcome--and most benches--in the European leagues, a portly Maradona returned to Argentina, where this week he is expected to join his newest team, Newell's Old Boys. Newell's is the champion of the Argentine first division.

After playing a season with Sevilla in Spain, Maradona returned to Buenos Aires and announced, for the umpteenth time, his retirement from the game he says he dearly loves.

Brilliant and erratic, Maradona has seemed to fall out of love with soccer, particularly after his 15-month suspension in the spring of 1991 for cocaine use. He retired then, too, before going to Spain for a multi-zillion transfer fee.

If--and these are Maradona-sized ifs--the 33-year-old can regain both his fitness and zeal for the game, he may be the cavalry the Argentinian national team has been seeking. After having finished behind Colombia in South American Group A World Cup qualifying, Argentina must win a grueling two-month home-and-home series with Australia to advance to the World Cup finals.

Soccer Notes

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