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SOCCER

South America a Continent Adrift

October 06, 2002|GRAHAME L. JONES

Europe does not have a monopoly on soccer news. It only seems that way sometimes.

If South America could ever get its act together--a dubious proposition given the weak and/or corrupt leadership of its 10 soccer federations--it might one day hold its own, but don't count on it.

Even CONMEBOL, the acronym by which the South American confederation is known, needs to put its chaotic house in order. Nicholas Leoz, the Paraguayan president of CONMEBOL, can start by upgrading the continent's major club championship, the Libertadores Cup.

This is supposed to be the equivalent of the European Cup, now organized as the vastly popular and profitable Champions League, but it doesn't even come close.

What sort of nonsense is it that qualifying games for the Libertadores Cup take place in Los Angeles between second- or third-string teams from Mexico?

Small wonder local fans turn out in small numbers for such non-events. They are far wiser than the organizers.

Time Out

Unless the financially plagued Bolivian league can somehow find a cure for its current woes, it will be a long time before the country again produces players of the caliber of Marco Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno.

Mexican Mix-Up

Then there is the farcical situation in Mexico City, where Club America, arguably one of the leading teams in the Americas, has lost a coach who was unbeaten 10 games into the season.

Under interim Coach Mario Carillo, "Las Aguilas" had compiled an 8-0-2 record before Carillo announced last week that he was stepping aside to allow Coach Manuel Lapuente to take back the reins.

Javier Perez Treuffer, Club America's president, expressed surprise. Or at least he feigned it.

"It is a rare and strange case," he said in Mexico City. "I don't believe there is any other case in the world of a coach whose team are undisputed leaders simply getting up and saying, 'I'm off.' Everybody is confused."

Not everybody. Those whose word means something understand it completely.

Carillo agreed to serve as interim coach for a set period of time when Lapuente needed time off. Club America should have understood that it was only a temporary arrangement.

Lapuente did, and thanked Carillo for his achievements and his integrity in stepping aside despite his success with the team.

"I don't want any confusion," said Lapuente, who coached Mexico at the 1998 World Cup in France. "It [was] an agreement of loyalty to a companion, a brother and a friend."

American, Not Scotch

If and when he ever signs a new contract, will U.S. Coach Bruce Arena do the right thing and call the wonderfully named Johnny Walker in for a trial with the national team?

Walker has long been earning positive reviews in Chile, where he is the starting goalkeeper for Universidad Catolica.

The memorable playoff goal that Tony Meola allowed the Galaxy's Chris Albright to score almost from the halfway line when the Kansas City Wizards' Meola inexplicably had his back turned indicates that it might be time to give Walker a shot at the No. 3 spot, along with the MetroStars' Tim Howard and D.C. United's Nick Rimando.

Brad Friedel and Kasey Keller, of course, remain the top dogs.

Too European

Osvaldo "Ossie" Ardiles was on the ropes. Having taken over as coach of Racing Club, the defending Argentine champion, he suffered through one bad result after another and was on the verge of being fired.

Then things suddenly clicked as Racing rediscovered its form and began winning again, saving Ardiles' job.

Ardiles, a World Cup-winning winger on Argentina's 1978 team, said the turnaround is easily explained.

"As a severe self-criticism, I believe that I was too quick in trying to play a more European type of football, more dynamic, pressing in all areas of the field," he told the Buenos Aires radio station Del Plata.

"It needed much more physical effort than we could give and the players were not in condition to carry it out."

Perhaps that's also why England beat Argentina at the World Cup, and why Juan Sebastian Veron has struggled with Manchester United.

Dance of the Coaches

It was sad to see Valdir Espinosa dismissed last week as coach of Brazilian champion Atletico Paranaese. Sad, but hardly surprising. Brazilian clubs fire coaches at the drop of a hat, and fans call the constant flux "the dance of the coaches."

Espinosa was the 14th coach to dance his way out of a job in a season that is barely two months old. His replacement is Gilson Nunes, who, some might recall, coached Costa Rica during its qualifying campaign for the 2002 World Cup before he too lost his job.

Steve Sampson, Costa Rica's new coach, knows the risk he is taking.

Colombian Supreme

Ever wonder whatever happened to flamboyant Colombian goalkeeper Rene Higuita, he of the famed "scorpion kick"?

Well, Higuita, 36, is involved in his latest comeback, playing for unfashionable--not to say unheard-of--Pereira in the Colombian league and enjoying every moment of it.

"I'm happy to be doing what I enjoy most, which is to play football," Higuita said.

Futbol de Primera

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