U.S. Women Could Win Soccer World Cup — If

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Robert Siegel speaks with sportswriter Stephan Fatsis about the U.S. women's soccer team. The team is favored to win the 2011 Women's World Cup next summer in Germany ... if it qualifies for the tournament.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The U.S. women's national soccer team may not get the headlines it did in the days of Mia Hamm, but the Americans remain an international power and a favorite to win the 2011 Women's World Cup next summer in Germany - if, that is, they can clear an unexpected roadblock.

Sports writer Stefan Fatsis joins us now, as he does most Fridays, to talk about this and other soccer matters. Welcome, Stefan.

Mr. STEFAN FATSIS (Sportswriter): Hey, Robert.

SIEGEL: And that roadblock is actually qualifying for the tournament, something that's never been a problem for U.S. women's soccer before. What's going on?

MR. FATSIS: Well, the U.S. hasn't won every big event: three out of four Olympic gold medals, two out of five World Cups. But getting there has never been an issue. And then two weeks ago, the U.S. was upset in the semifinals of regional qualifying by Mexico, to whom it had never lost in 25 games. So now the United States has to play Italy in a two game series for a spot in the World Cup. The first game is in Padua, Italy, tomorrow at 10:30 Eastern. You can watch it online at ESPN3.com.

SIEGEL: Now, meanwhile, the U.S. men's national team played a friendly - an exhibition game in South Africa this week. Friendlies usually don't merit a conversation, certainly not here, but this one did because of a couple of players who debuted for the U.S. Tell us about them.

MR. FATSIS: They debuted and they combined for the game's only goal. Juan Agudelo and Mikkel Diskerud. Agudelo is a striker just 17 years old, born in Colombia, raised in New Jersey, already plays in Major League Soccer. And he became the youngest scorer in modern American men's history.

Now, Diskerud, his nickname is Mix, is a 20-year-old midfielder. He's got an American mother, a Norwegian father. And the significant thing here is that by playing a game for the men's team, it's now going to be difficult for them to change their minds and decide to represent Norway or Colombia in the future on the soccer field.

SIEGEL: Now, you mentioned Major League Soccer. Major League Soccer's championship game is on Sunday. And I understand that David Beckham will not be participating.

MR. FATSIS: No he will not: the glamorous names of the league, Beckham, the U.S. national team star Landon Donovan, both of whom play for the Los Angeles Galaxy. The French import Thierry Henry, who joined the New York Red Bulls this season and had a very positive impact on the league, those teams were favorites, but they were eliminated in the playoffs. The finalists are going to be FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids. They are original teams from the MLS's start back in 1996. One of them will win its first title.

SIEGEL: And you've been optimistic about Major League Soccer. You still feel that way?

MR. FATSIS: Yeah, I do. The fan base has been stable. You've got more and more of these beautiful soccer-only stadiums being built. The league's going to add two more teams next season: the Portland Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps. They'll be instant rivals with names that date back to the old North American Soccer League in the 1970s.

And I think that's a smart thing because MLS doesn't take advantage enough of the richer-than-you'd-think history of soccer in America. Instead there's still this infatuation with Europe and we saw that this week in a faux-Euro name change for the MLS team in Kansas City. The Wizards are now sporting Kansas City like the famous sporting Lisbon team. I think we can do without that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Finally, let's turn overseas. FIFA, soccer's international governing body, this week released its evaluations of the bids to host the World Cup in 2018 and 2022. The U.S. is bidding for the 2022 World Cup. What's the word?

MR. FATSIS: Well, FIFA loved the important stuff: the stadiums, the infrastructure, the ability to sell way more tickets than the competitors here Qatar, Japan, South Korea and Australia. The bigger problem might be reports of a deal between delegates representing Qatar and Spain and Portugal, which have a joint bid for 2018 to vote for each other.

FIFA's Ethics Committee said it found no evidence of collusion, after which FIFA's leader Sepp Blatter said, you cannot avoid collusion. So go figure that one out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MR. FATSIS: FIFA's Ethics Committee did at least suspend two voters who were caught on video seeking bribes for their votes from reporters posing as lobbyists for the U.S. bid. So this should be interesting, the vote is December 2nd.

SIEGEL: Okay, thank you, Stefan.

MR. FATSIS: Thanks, Robert.

SIEGEL: Stefan Fatsis joins us on Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports. You can hear more of him on Slate.com sports podcast "Hang Up and Listen."

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