Despite Major League Soccer's tumultuous season that has included the dismissal of the commissioner and deputy commissioner, the sport's world governing body remains confident about the future of the four-year-old league, a high-ranking FIFA official said today.
"We are very happy that the problems appear to be resolved," FIFA General Secretary Michel Zen-Ruffinen said following the organization's executive committee meetings here this weekend. "We know that the league works quite well, we know that the attendance is okay. . . . We expect the league to continue to grow."
Don Garber, MLS's new commissioner, and MLS founder Alan Rothenberg met with FIFA President Joseph "Sepp" Blatter here earlier this week to discuss the league's future. No details were revealed, but Blatter said he was impressed with Garber and his work at the NFL prior to accepting MLS's offer in August.
Blatter attended the CONCACAF Champions Cup semifinals here on Friday, and although both D.C. United and the Chicago Fire lost, he said he was impressed by "the progress realized by MLS. . . . I haven't seen this D.C. United [before Friday]. And if you witnessed this game, you must say they played the better football [during a 3-1 loss to Necaxa of Mexico]. They kept the ball on the field. What they are missing is someone to score goals at the right opportunities and perhaps also to have a goalkeeper who is a lucky man because if a goalkeeper is not a lucky man, then he's a lucky loser. And a lucky loser in football does not mean a lot."
Asked to comment on the narrow field at Sam Boyd Stadium, where the Champions Cup is being held, Blatter said: "I have no objections to the pitch. It is a good surface and it is the correct size. It is a little bit tight [65 yards], but it still [meets] international regulations and dimensions."
On the football yard markings that are visible, he added: "It looked not so nice when you were up in the stands."
Following the executive committee meetings, FIFA announced that:
Asian countries would receive four places in the 2002 World Cup, and a fifth team would have to play a European team in a playoff for another berth. Asian countries had threatened to boycott the World Cup if they did not receive another automatic bid, but that issue was resolved last month.
Asia's request this weekend to play the Oceania region champion (probably Australia) instead of a European team was rejected. "The threat of boycott has been sent off by red card and will never come up again," Blatter said.
CONCACAF will continue to receive three berths.
The 2002 World Cup, shared by Japan and South Korea, will be held June 1-30. FIFA had considered starting the event earlier to avoid the rainy seasons in those countries.
The host of the 2006 World Cup will be determined July 5-6, 2000, in Zurich. South Africa, Germany and England are the top candidates.
"Big progress" has been made in creating a harmonized international calendar to avoid conflicts between national teams and clubs for the service of players, Zen-Ruffinen said. FIFA's goal is to have an entire year of worldwide game dates scheduled by 2004.
A World Cup for male players age 35 and older and a Women's Youth World Cup are under consideration.