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USA vs. Ukraine exhibition in jeopardy

Cobi Jones talks about what the USMNT learned in Brazil
Cobi Jones talks about what the USMNT learned in Brazil
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Leander Schaerlaeckens

Leander Schaerlaeckens has written about soccer for The New York Times, The Guardian, ESPN The Magazine and World Soccer. Follow him on Twitter.

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The United States' international friendly against Ukraine next month is in doubt because of political unrest and clashes between protesters and government forces in the country's capital Kiev. 

"For all our international travel we communicate with the State Department and the local authorities," U.S. Soccer spokesman Neil Buethe told FOX Soccer. "We’re doing that now and monitoring the situation in Ukraine. At this point we’re still playing on March 5. But the safety of the players and coaches is always our first priority."

Should the State Department advise against going, it is believed the USA would cancel the game. There is a precedent for this: in January, 2011, the Americans were supposed to play Egypt in Cairo where protesters poured into Tahrir Square to demand the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. The USA decided against playing the match.

The game is slated to be a part of the USA’s final preparations for the World Cup in Brazil this summer, and it falls on the final FIFA international date on which all professional clubs must release their players to their countries before World Cup camps. Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann had planned to use the game to winnow down his European-based candidates for the World Cup roster. He last had those players at his disposal in November, so the game represented a final tryout, of sorts. Ukraine had not been the first choice of opponents (a country located in central Europe was preferred for logistical reasons) but an opponent there could not be landed. And the game fell to Ukraine, which sports a solid national team and co-hosted Euro 2012 with Poland.

The USA plans to hold a two-day camp in Frankfurt, Germany before chartering a flight to Kharkiv – altogether bypassing Kiev, which lies 250 miles west – and arriving the day before the game. But with the situation on the ground so fluid, several options are in play.

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It’s possible that the venue for the game could be changed, the way Thursday’s Dynamo Kiev-Valencia UEFA Europa League game was moved to Cyprus. That would be handled by the Ukrainian federation, however.

If the game is called off, U.S. Soccer could look for another team to play. With only a friendly with Mexico remaining on April 2 – for which European-based players will not be released – before World Cup camp opens, competitive minutes are precious.

"We would look at any other option if playing in Ukraine was not possible." said Buethe. But it is acknowledged that finding a different opponent at such short notice would be difficult, and the more likely scenario would be to relocate the match.

In related news, Tottenham Hotspur have announced their game in Dnipro on Thursday will go ahead as planned. American goalkeeper Brad Friedel is expected to start for Spurs in the match.
 

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