- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 5, 2002

Soccer fans could finally breathe a sigh of relief this week after Major League Soccer announced it won the television rights to the 2002 World Cup and that the games would be shown on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC.

At a time when it was feared the matches would only be broadcast on Spanish-language television, MLS stepped up and brokered a deal that provides all the games be broadcast in English without commercial interruptions. The deal also includes the 2006 World Cup.

All 64 games at the finals in South Korea and Japan, May 31 to June 30, will be broadcast live, even though many of the matches will be aired at night on the East Coast.

ESPN is scheduled to show 17 matches live, ESPN2 will air 46 live and a minimum of nine games will be shown on ABC, including the live telecast of the championship game from Yokohama, Japan, Sunday, June 30 at 7 a.m.

ESPN and ESPN2 will also re-air nine games later in the day and some games will even be shown on ESPN Classic.

Fans on the East Coast will have to rise early to see the American team play its three opening games in Group D.

The U.S. team first takes on Portugal at 5 a.m. on Wednesday, June 5, followed by South Korea at 2:30 a.m. on Monday, June 10 and finally Poland at 7:30 a.m. on Friday, June 14. The highly anticipated clash between favorites Argentina and arch-rival England will air at 7:30 a.m. on Friday, June 14.

The games are available in America after a new company formed by MLS investors purchased the rights to the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, the 2002-2006 MLS seasons and the 2003 Women's World Cup.

According to MLS commissioner Don Garber, this new company will also seek the rights to other soccer games, such as Mexican League matches, Italian league games and major international matches.

"Our plan is to own soccer in this country," said Garber.

MLS also announced that ESPN2 will televise more than 26 MLS games, primarily on Saturday afternoons in 2002. Unfortunately, these games will likely conflict with the Women's United Soccer Association, which will air 22 games live on Saturday afternoons at 4 p.m., beginning in April on the cable station Pax TV.

MLS contraction The question of whether Major League Soccer will remain as a 12-team league is still up in the air with just weeks to go before preseason training begins.

For the last few months, there have been reports that the league may cut teams in Colorado and Florida.

"We are organizing things as if there are no changes," Garber said this week. "The fact that we haven't made a decision is positive for now."

United rumor alert Former Scotland and Glasgow Rangers captain Richard Gough has been linked with the coaching vacancy at D.C. United.

Gough, 40, who led the Rangers to nine titles and played two seasons in the MLS with San Jose and Kansas City, recently told the British media he wanted to get into coaching. Gough, however, has just broken up with his wife, who lives in California, and says he wants to return to Scotland to coach.

Said Gough: "There have been coaching offers in the USA but I believe if you want to be involved in football at the top level you have to look to Europe."

That's a pity because Gough has enormous experience in the game, leadership qualities, and after playing in the MLS understands the soccer culture here.

The Scottish defender, who was born in Sweden but played for Scotland because his father was born there, has also been linked with the coaching job at Dundee United, where he started his career.

Keller on top America goalie Kasey Keller is suddenly back in the limelight and challenging Brad Friedel for the U.S. team starting job at the World Cup.

Keller, 31, recently made the first team at English Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur after the starting goalie, Neil Sullivan, was benched.

Keller told the English media that he will not return this month to play for the U.S. team at the CONCACAF Gold Cup because he wants to hold on to his first team place at Tottenham.

"I want to stay here and concentrate on trying to hang on to the No. 1 jersey," Keller said. "But that means missing January's CONCACAF tournament, which means somebody else will be playing between the posts for the U.S. national side instead of me. It's impossible to work out what the best option is, but I have decided that I should do everything possible to protect my Premiership place with Spurs after being given this unexpected chance."

Keller had planned to return to play in the Gold Cup if he remained on the bench at his London club.

"This is the best scenario for everybody me, the Spurs and the national team," Keller said. "I broke in just in time."

After joining Tottenham five months ago, Keller got his first start last week in a 1-1 tie with Aston Villa. On Tuesday Keller helped Spurs defeat Friedel's club Blackburn, 1-0.

American coach Bruce Arena has called up four goalies Tony Meola, Tim Howard, Zach Thornton and Nick Rimando to replace Keller and Friedel at the Gold Cup starting on Jan. 19 when the Americans face World Cup opponents South Korea at the Pasadena Rose Bowl.

Hamm out Washington Freedom star Mia Hamm has been pulled off the U.S. women's national team roster for the sold-out exhibition game against Mexico next Saturday at Charleston, S.C. (7 p.m. ESPN2) because of a left leg injury. Freedom midfielder Monica Gerardo stars for Mexico.

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