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SOCCER

Collegiate Coaches Not Playing Fair

November 17, 2002|GRAHAME L. JONES

Those who think that all college coaches in the United States have the best interests of their players at heart should think again.

Obviously, there are NCAA and NAIA coaches who believe their own job security and won-lost records are more important than their leading players' right to achieve their full potential.

And such coaches are willing to resort to decidedly dubious tactics to get their way. Some tactics include threatening to revoke players' scholarships unless they toe the college line at the expense of their own national teams.

The eight-nation CONCACAF Women's Gold Cup that ended last Sunday with the United States beating Canada in the final at the Rose Bowl provided proof of this selfish attitude.

The national coaches of the countries that finished 1-2-3 in the tournament -- April Heinrichs of the U.S., Even Pellerud of Canada and Leonardo Cuellar of Mexico -- all criticized colleges for their short-sighted and wrong-headed stance.

Canada, Haiti, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago and the U.S. -- more than half the Gold Cup field, in fact -- all had players barred from playing in the tournament or yanked out of it at the worst of times by American college coaches.

And this was a tournament that determined which teams would go to the Women's World Cup in China next year. It wasn't some fly-by-night event.

The problem is, neither the national teams nor their respective federations have the power to do anything about it. Because they are not under the control of any federation, confederation or even FIFA itself, colleges can go their own way and snub their noses at the world.

And who is to say the outcome of the Gold Cup itself was not affected by all this?

What if Canada, for instance, had had reserve defender Sasha Andrews and backup goalkeeper Erin McLeod available for the final? They had played in earlier games, so they were not merely benchwarmers. But Southern Methodist University made them return to school on the eve of the Gold Cup final.

"They had to go home," said Pellerud, who led Norway to the 1995 Women's World Cup title. "They were threatened to lose the scholarships if they didn't go home, yes."

Pellerud said Canada could do nothing about it.

"The NCAA is not connected to FIFA, so there is no chance," he said.

George Van Linder, SMU's coach, told Soccer America magazine that he and Pellerud had agreed before the Gold Cup that once Canada had clinched its place in the World Cup by winning its semifinal, Andrews and McLeod would return to SMU to help qualify for the NCAA playoffs.

"[Pellerud] called me before the semifinals and told me he wanted them longer," Van Linder said. "I told him we'd agreed, and we need to [stick to the agreement]. He didn't want to. The players felt they were in a difficult situation -- they wanted to do both. They were put in a tough situation, and I had to be the bad guy."

Canadian players, however, were not the only ones put into such awkward positions.

Mexico lost Cristina Rivera before the tournament began because the University of San Diego refused to release her. Cuellar had to do without other players as well.

Haiti was left without the services of its top goal scorer, Erlie Thelot, because Lee University, an NAIA school in Florida, refused to release her.

Trinidad and Tobago lost not one, but three players, a fact bemoaned by Coach Jamaal Shabazz before the Gold Cup began.

"We had a lot of problems in securing the overseas [U.S. college] players," Shabazz told the Trinidad Guardian. "The schools did not want to release these players because of the timing of the [Gold Cup] tournament, which clashes with their season.

"We have heard that the American NCAA does not recognize the tournament and as such we could not have used any big sticks to get these players. It's disappointing."

Trinidad and Tobago had to make do without defender Teleshia Joseph and forward April Reyes, both of Central Missouri State, as well as defender Kesi Ann Francis of Parker College.

Even the U.S. had to dicker with colleges over the sharing of players during the tournament.

That's why midfielder Aly Wagner played for the U.S. on a Saturday night in Seattle, played for Santa Clara against Portland on Sunday, then rejoined the U.S. team on Monday for a semifinal on Wednesday.

Such a schedule hardly helped Santa Clara, the U.S. or Wagner.

The entire situation angered Cuellar, himself a college coach and former World Cup player for Mexico.

"I'm not happy that some Mexican girls who have played for Mexico before and belong to universities were not allowed to be with us," he said. "And I ask myself if [they were U.S. players], would the universities take the same position?

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