U.S. Soccer Team Heads To Gold Cup Finals

The men's team is generating momentum toward the 2014 Wold Cup. Guest host Linda Wertheimer talks to NPR sports reporter Tom Goldman about soccer, as well as baseball doping scandals.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Time now for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEME MUSIC)

WERTHEIMER: The NFL season may still be a few months away, but soccer is in full swing, and the U.S. is making headlines. Plus, doping is back in the news - in baseball and cycling, although with a new twist.

NPR's Tom Goldman joins us now.

Let's start with soccer. Tomorrow, the U.S. Men's team plays in the Gold Cup final. So that'll be pretty exciting, right?

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Yeah, pretty exciting. For those who don't know, the Gold Cup is a regional tournament among the teams that make up CONCACAF - that's the region encompassing North America, Central America and the Caribbean. So, now that we know that, yes, it's pretty exciting. Although, this tournament has no bearing on qualifying for next year's World Cup. And according to SoccerAmerica writer Mike Woitalla, who I spoke to, most countries in this Gold Cup sent their B teams. Still, the U.S. Men are on a nice roll. They've won 10 straight wins. And after his recent sabbatical from soccer, American Landon Donovan has been playing very well. He's one of the country's greatest ever and he's looking like he could be a force as the U.S. tries to build momentum for next year's World Cup.

WERTHEIMER: I understand the U.S. Men's coach won't be there for the Gold Cup. What did he do to get suspended?

GOLDMAN: Well, he had a little bit of a fit during the semi-finals against Honduras and they ejected him from the game. He was unhappy with the officiating. As per the rules, he was suspended for the final against Panama. But really, even soccer insiders say it's not a huge loss. The soccer coach is not critical during the game, more before the game.

WERTHEIMER: Speaking of soccer, at least one member of FIFA - which is the governing body for the World Cup - has said that it was a blatant mistake to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. Doesn't it get awfully hot there in the summer? Although, I guess Qatar, if it wants to, could just air-condition the desert.

(LAUGHTER)

GOLDMAN: It really could. It does get hot. Qatar says it'll have air-conditioned stadiums. But even if it does, you know, that whole thing about air-conditioning the desert, what about the hundreds of thousands of visiting fans who create this mostly wonderful, cultural explosion at the tournament? You know, will they be able to take their celebration to the streets on a daily basis for about a month? You know, one wonders, Linda, why this is becoming an issue now. In fact, when Qatar was awarded the World Cup in 2010, it was an issue then.

Could the tournament still be moved? There is precedent. FIFA originally awarded the 1986 World Cup to Colombia, but that country couldn't pull it off because of infrastructure and economic problems, so it ultimately went to Mexico.

WERTHEIMER: OK. Let's go to doping.

GOLDMAN: OK.

WERTHEIMER: It's in the news in several sports. Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers was suspended. How significant is that?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. It's notable obviously, for who he is. It's also notable for how it went down - basically without a peep. Braun decided not to appeal and Major League Baseball was crowing about how seamless this apparently was. The union, startling, praised Braun for not appealing. That's certainly a change from defending every player to the death no matter what the evidence is against him. The union was praised for its stance and criticized for not defending him more.

WERTHEIMER: So Tom, doping has tarnished cycling for some time. Is the sport finally getting a grip on the problem?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Well, you know, good news for cycling this week. That's a statement you don't often hear. The Tour de France ended last Sunday. So far no reports of positive drug tests or conspiracies and so on. There was news out of France that a number of riders from the 1998 tour had their samples retested and were positive. But there's a sense that that was then and this is now and the sport may in fact be moving away from a doping past. You know, no one is naive enough to think it'll ever be gone, but it's been a quiet week.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Thank you, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

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