With the Ukrainian crisis deepening and Western leaders weighing action, the U.S. Soccer Federation has begun exploring alternatives for the March 5 friendly between the national team and Ukraine in Kharkiv.
“We are having discussions with the Ukrainian federation about all options,” spokesman Neil Buethe told the Insider on Thursday night.
Buethe declined to speculate on possible solutions but said the sides have not ruled out playing in Kharkiv.
The USSF expects to learn more about the situation Friday morning.
The most promising option might be staging the match at a neutral site, perhaps in Germany. The U.S. squad will train in Frankfurt in the days before the friendly and, with his strong German ties, Coach Juergen Klinsmann might be able to help broker a deal. Ukraine is the home team, however, and would have to take the lead in proposing any changes.
This week Dynamo Kiev’s UEFA Europa League home match against Valencia was moved to Nicosia, Cyprus.
Dnipro ended up playing its Europa game against Tottenham Hotspur in Dnipropetrovsk, which is about 280 miles southeast of Kiev.
Kharkiv is 300 miles east of Kiev, the epicenter of anti-government protests and violence. But the prospects of playing an international friendly during turbulent times have prompted the latest discussions between the federations.
The USSF remains in regular contact with the Department of State as well.
The U.S. squad is planning to charter directly from Frankfurt to Kharkiv and would not pass through Kiev.
U.S. government involvement in Ukraine’s crisis, however, would threaten to raise tensions ahead of a visiting American delegation.
Aside from playing in Kharkiv or on neutral ground, the sides could:
*Cancel the match altogether, which would impact the Americans more severely because they are preparing for the World Cup. (Ukraine didn’t qualify.) Without a game, the European-based U.S. regulars would not play together — or with some of the MLS players that Klinsmann was expected to summon — until three Cup tune-ups at home in late May and early June.
*Cancel the game and find an alternate opponent for the Americans. At this late stage, though, most teams are already locked into matches.
*Cancel the match and stage an extended U.S. training camp in Germany for the European-based players — a gathering that, without a competitive match, probably wouldn’t be worthwhile.
*Cancel the match as well as training camp. In exchange for letting players remain with their clubs during the FIFA fixture window, the USSF could seek releases for the April 2 friendly against Mexico in Arizona. That game does not fall on a FIFA date, however, and besides being under no obligation to grant the request, Euro clubs would resist such an arrangement because of the travel distance involved during the late stage of the league schedule.
Meantime, troubled by the violence back home, some of Ukraine’s Olympians have decided to leave the Winter Games in Sochi.