CARSON, Calif. – Bruce Arena has backtracked on his refusal to release Robbie Keane for the friendlies Ireland have scheduled ahead of their upcoming World Cup qualifier against the Faroe Islands, and it's all about the agreement between U.S. Soccer and Major League Soccer on player releases this summer.
The LA Galaxy captain will be departing following Sunday's game against Seattle for Ireland's matches on May 29 against England at Wembley Stadium and June 2 against Georgia in Dublin. The Republic meet the Faroes in Dublin on June 7, and Keane also will be available for the friendly with Spain on June 12 in New York.
Arena's not particularly happy about it, but what's fair is fair, he says.
“In reflecting over it, I think if we're requested to release US players, then how can we not allow other internationals to go,” the Galaxy head coach and general manager said after Wednesday's training session at the Home Depot Center. “We're allowing US players to play in friendlies, then we have to do [this]. It creates an awkward situation, but it's fair.”
Defender Omar Gonzalez also will depart the Galaxy after the Seattle game, joining up with the US national team for friendlies next Wednesday against Belgium in Cleveland and June 2 against Germany in Washington, followed by World Cup qualifiers against Jamaica (June 7 in Kingston), Panama (June 11 in Seattle) and Honduras (June 18 in Sandy, Utah).
He will miss three MLS games – June 2 at New England, June 8 at Real Salt Lake and June 19 at home against Portland – and as many as two US Open Cup matches.
Keane will miss the games against New England and RSL and not be available for the Open Cup until the June 26 quarterfinals, should the Galaxy advance that far.
Arena said the league “mandated that we release the players” for the US friendlies – it's part of an agreement between the federation and the league about rosters for summer events, including the CONCACAF Gold Cup in July – and said letting Keane join the Irish team ahead of the FIFA-mandated release date for qualifiers was “the right thing to do.”
“In reality, no player should be released. US player or other internationals,” Arena said. “We should adhere to FIFA rules. ... If our US internationals are going for friendlies, then others should. We're on the same page here. It's not one rule for one and one for another.”
The Galaxy declined to make Keane available to media Wednesday.
The USSF-MLS agreement is designed to benefit the federation and the league, a league source said, and limits US coach Jurgen Klinsmann from using the same players for next month's qualifiers and all of the Gold Cup.
CONCACAF will allow teams to make four changes to their Gold Cup rosters following the group stage, and Klinsmann said in a teleconference Monday that “we agreed to let all MLS players play on May 25 and 26 with their clubs in exchange to have the availability of those players for the last week of the Gold Cup.”
Arena on Tuesday said said the Galaxy would follow FIFA rules in releasing Keane, that he's “an important member of our team, he's missed half the games [because of injuries], and these games are important. We're the ones that pay him.”
He acknowledged Wednesday that LA would like to have him next week.
“We can have all of our players actually. Right?” Arena said. “By FIFA rules, they should all be playing MLS games. So that's the way our league has decided to operate. I don't think coaches agree with that, but that's fine.”