Football: US to launch dollars 100m league: Phil Reeves in Las Vegas reports on an ambitious plan as a row clouds today's World Cup draw

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The Independent Online
ON THE eve of tonight's draw for the World Cup finals, the United States announced that it is ready to fulfil a difficult promise made in return for being awarded this summer's finals - the establishment of a national professional football league.

Undeterred by the indifference with which most Americans view the sport, US football officials have unveiled plans to launch a league of 12 teams, which they intend to start operating in April 1995 and which will cost dollars 100m to set up.

But there are already signs that the game will be made more palatable for the American public. The US football authorities have said that they are considering tampering with the rules, and this may include widening the goals, changing the offside law, and replacing throw-ins with kick-ins.

Details of the league - to be called the Major Soccer League - were announced by Alan Rothenberg, the president of the United States Soccer Federation and chairman of the US World Cup organising committee, in the run-up to today's draw. 'The time has never been more right. The level of participation has been going up by leaps and bounds,' he said.

Last week the US presented Fifa, the game's world governing body, with its detailed proposals for the league, which includes spending dollars 50m on adapting stadia and dollars 50m on start-up costs. However, this money has yet to be raised from private investors.

The plan is for a league run by a single commercial entity, to which the players - 216 of them - would be under contract. This appears to be part of an attempt to avoid the fate of the North American Soccer League, which collapsed in 1984 amid disputes and money shortages.

According to Mr Rothenberg, the MSL players will be paid 'competitive' salaries in the hope of luring many of them from Europe. Sponsors, whom he says have responded enthusiastically to the venture, will be named at a future date. And the 12 successful bidders for the franchises, based in the major cities, will be made public in the spring, before the World Cup gets under way. The league, which will allow a maximum of three foreigners per team, will play from April to September, to avoid competing with the gridiron season.

The drive to improve football's profile here has not been helped by the arrangements for today's draw. Its timing could not be worse for US television viewers, as it coincides with live coverage of gridiron games. Nor is the razzmatazz likely to remove the cloud that hangs over the ceremony because of a feud involving the sport's greatest figure, Pele. The dispute has worsened - and last night it seemed likely that the superstar would be excluded from the draw.

The row is the result of a legal battle between Pele and the Brazilian son-in-law of Joao Havelange, Fifa's president. It is reported that Havelange asked the executive committee of Fifa, which met on Friday, to declare Pele persona non grata. After the meeting, Havelange was repeatedly asked questions about Pele by some of the 1,500 journalists covering the Las Vegas draw, but he answered frostily: 'Fifa reserves the right to decide who's going to be there. There is no obligation to admit this person or another.'

Johan Cruyff will not be taking charge of the Netherlands for the finals. The Barcelona coach was to step in for the duration of the tournament, but the Dutch football association has rejected his financial demands. Dick Advocaat is expected to stay.

Germany defeated the United States 3-0 in a friendly yesterday.

WORLD CUP DRAW DETAILS: One team is drawn from each pot to make six groups of four. The nine venues will be announced later. Germany, as holders, will open in Chicago on 17 June.

Pot one: Germany, United States, Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Italy.

Pot two: Cameroon, Morocco, Nigeria, Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico.

Pot three: Spain, Russia, Ireland, Romania, Netherlands, Bulgaria.

Pot four: South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Norway, Greece, Switzerland.