The U.S. Soccer Federation has held "preliminary discussions" with Mexican soccer officials about placing the U.S. national team in the Mexican First Division next year, USSF President Alan Rothenberg said yesterday.

"The initial reaction was quite positive," said Rothenberg, who also is exploring the possibilities of placing the national team in a top Brazilian league, having it be allowed to participate in certain European cup competitions or playing a series of matches against teams in European leagues that would count in those leagues' standings.

Rothenberg said he views these concepts as an "interim step" between the USSF's current system of elite-player development -- which involves the federation signing top American players to contracts -- and the future establishment of a national professional outdoor league in the United States. Currently, the USSF is attempting to place as many players as possible with foreign club teams and having the remainder play exhibition matches.

"We'd like to keep the core of the team together playing under the national team coach and playing in a league that is a first-division-caliber league," said Rothenberg, who was elected USSF president last month over incumbent Werner Fricker and then-treasurer Paul Stiehl.

Rothenberg and Charles Cale, the Los Angeles attorney who is leading Rothenberg's transition team, discussed the concept with the top officials in FIFA (soccer's world governing body) last week during a series of meetings in Zurich.

Rothenberg said FIFA President Joao Havelange and General Secretary Joseph Blatter were "not encouraging" about the possibility of the U.S. team participating in a European league, but they did not reject it. They also indicated USSF discussions with Mexican or Brazilian soccer officials "might bear fruit if we explored it," Rothenberg said.

In addition, Rothenberg said the possibility of the U.S. team participating in European summer cup competitions "seemed to get a favorable reception" from Havelange and Blatter.

FIFA's apparent willingness to lend its considerable political muscle to a rather revolutionary effort aimed at improving the U.S. national team is yet another indication of FIFA's desire to make the sport succeed in the United States as it gets ready to host the 1994 World Cup finals and afterward.

Rothenberg also spoke about the role Franz Beckenbauer will play with the USSF. Beckenbauer, who coached West Germany to the 1990 World Cup title, last week reached agreement to come to the United States. He will help draw a blueprint for the national team program through 1992 and then will join it as technical director.

In business pertaining to the '94 finals, Rothenberg's trip to Zurich also produced an outline for a marketing agreement between the U.S. organizing committee, FIFA and ISL, the agent that holds all merchandising rights to the 1994 World Cup. "We've come to a basic understanding," Cale said. "We have the basic business points resolved."

In a related development, Rothenberg said he will propose that Cale become the organizing commitee's chief executive officer at the organizing committee's board of directors meeting Monday in New York. The post currently is held by Fricker. Cale's transition team is meeting today in Los Angeles.