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MLS lockout could affect Team USA

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Bob Bradley's World Cup headache doesn't stem from a salacious twist and it's not going to send the tabloids into a breathless frenzy.

However, as the United States head coach casts a keen but distant eye over political negotiations that could have a significant effect on his preparations for South Africa, he may allow himself a moment's envy for Fabio Capello.

Capello, the coach of the England team, became a central figure in the media storm surrounding his former captain John Terry's affair with the girlfriend of teammate Wayne Bridge. Capello took swift action in asserting his authority, stripping Terry of the leader's armband and restoring some semblance of normality into the England camp.

Bradley's problem is one which he can do precious little about, except sit and watch and hope for a resolution that does not end in disruption.

The ongoing dispute between Major League Soccer and its players union over a new collective bargaining agreement remains in a stalemate, and a work stoppage is still a very real possibility. The deadline for an agreement has already been extended once (to this Friday), but hostilities have yet to thaw and a delay in fresh talks caused by East Coast weather problems seemed to cast another ominous portent.

Much of Bradley's squad plies its trade in Europe and would therefore be unaffected by either a strike or a lockout. Indeed, for Landon Donovan it may be that such a scenario assists him, meaning he could extend his loan stint with English Premier League side Everton past the scheduled 10-week agreement.

But there are others – like Jonathan Bornstein, Chad Marshall, Frankie Hejduk, Robbie Findley and Conor Casey – who would hope to be part of Bradley's final 23 for South Africa and who could be severely impacted.

"MLS does and will continue to play a very big role in regards to the national team," Bradley said. "Without having any real sense of the discussions going on I think we can safely say that it is in everyone's interests that some agreement will be reached sooner rather than later.

"We hope that is the case because a work stoppage – a significant work stoppage over a period of time – would definitely affect some of those players.

"A short one can be chalked up to part of the growth of the league and the kind of thing that happens as leagues and sports get bigger."

MLS commissioner Don Garber and his team plan to meet with players' union officials this week and try to hammer out a mutually beneficial arrangement. Yet it is unlikely to be simple, with the players determined to secure free-agency rights and the owners reluctant to relinquish them.

With some player salaries embarrassingly low and owners exercising caution in financially uncertain times, common ground might be sparse.

The refusal of either side to make any meaningful public comment has left fans, players of many teams and Bradley in the dark as to what the 2010 MLS landscape will involve. Or indeed, if there will even be a season. Their belief is that a long-term stoppage would benefit no one and their hope is that some kind of deal can hopefully be thrashed out.

"Hopefully the leaders on both sides can work through the issues," Bradley said. "Hopefully an agreement can be reached in a way that makes sense for everybody and that will be good for the growth of our game over the next period of time."

If a stoppage does take place, it would leave Bradley in an awkward spot. Does he then risk taking a chance on MLS players lacking the appropriate level of match fitness? Or does he go with other options, namely players currently on the fringes or outside the squad but who have been performing regularly in Europe or elsewhere?

The core of the unit should not be affected, with the likes of Donovan, Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore suiting up in major European leagues. Houston Dynamo duo Stuart Holden and Ricardo Clark also jumped ship from MLS over the winter, Holden joining Bolton Wanderers of the EPL and Clark signing with Eintracht Frankfurt of the German Bundesliga.

Bradley though, will be concerned with the depth of his group, especially given the USA's disciplinary record regarding yellow cards, which could lead to a handful of one-game suspensions during the tournament.

A timely end to the collective bargaining saga would be more than welcome, both for the ownership groups and hundreds of MLS players. Yet if things do get resolved, no one will be more relieved than Bradley, who will have seen one major World Cup obstacle cleared from his path.

Group C watch

England – Head coach Fabio Capello took just 12 minutes to meet with John Terry and tell him he was being replaced by Rio Ferdinand as team captain.

Algeria – Reports from Algeria suggest that exciting youngster Rabie Meftah is on the verge of a national team recall.

Slovenia – Zlatko Dedic has hit form for German side Bochum, scoring the equalizer in a 1-1 draw with Bundesliga leader Bayer Leverkusen.

Smiles

FIFA announced that the latest wave of World Cup ticketing once again brought the strongest response of any nation from the U.S., meaning Bob Bradley's side will be among the best-supported in South Africa.

Tears

Ruud van Nistelrooy's hopes of breaking into the Netherlands' World Cup squad took another blow when Hamburg head coach Bruno Labbadia revealed the striker is only 60-percent fit.

World Cup numerology

119 – The number of minutes it took for a goal to arrive in the 2006 semifinal between Italy and Germany. Fabio Grosso finally broke the deadlock, Alessandro del Piero added another a minute later and Italy went on to lift the trophy.

The walking wounded (Gooch, Charlie and Deuce)

Oguchi Onyewu – Rumors are circulating in Italy that Gooch could be allowed to complete a short-term loan to an MLS club in order to get match-fit for the World Cup. Likelihood of World Cup selection: 90 percent.

Charlie Davies – The surgery on his elbow last week proved successful and Davies' confidence is growing that he can return soon. Likelihood of World Cup selection: 20 percent.

Clint Dempsey – Deuce is making a solid recovery from knee ligament damage, but will need to be at optimum fitness before he regains his Fulham spot from on-loan youngster Stefano Okaka. Likelihood of World Cup selection: 95 percent.

Put it on your calendar

May 29 – The USA's final send-off game before heading to South Africa will take place on the East Coast against a yet-to-be-announced opponent.

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