The USA should have cancelled the Ukraine friendly long ago

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds

As much as we'd all like politics and sports to not mix, it's inevitable that they will collide and sometimes the sports should step aside for the good of all involved.

We're a site dedicated to covering soccer. Specifically the US National Team, both men's and women's. Therefore it's not our job to comment on geo-politics for a couple reasons. First, we're a sports site and second, we're sports writers. That said, sometimes the issues are too big to ignore and I think it's important to understand the context that tomorrow's match between the USA and Ukraine exists.

Most of us became aware of the unrest in Ukraine sometime in January when anti-governmnment protests became violent and graphic photographs and videos began to emerge. The actual situation, or at least it's flashpoint stretches back to November of 2013 when now deposed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych decided not to sign a major partnership deal with the European Union.

Many within Ukraine felt that the country needed to have more interactions with its fellow European countries and an expanded role with the EU. There has been years of work between Ukranian officials and EU officials in an attempt to create a working partnership between the two. Protestors began voicing their displeasure with Yanukoych's decision in December and things simmered until January.

At this point the Ukrainian government announced new deals with Russia, a move many felt was a step in the wrong direction. Rather than embracing Europe, the decision to increase partnerships with Russia was perceived as a move against Europe.

Not everyone within Ukraine wanted the country to increase ties with the EU. The deal that Yanukovych signed pleased his supporters -- most of whom are in the eastern part of the country -- and led to big cuts in the price of imported Russian gasoline. In addition, Russia have been supporting Ukraine's struggling finances by investing large sums of money in the country. Yanukovych's supporters were concerned that an increased relationship with the EU would damage what they feel is a beneficial relationship with Russia.

In the wake of this decision and other factors, protests became violent, escalating into February when there were reports that a policeman was shot. By the end of the month at least 88 people were reported dead from the clashes.

In reaction to the violence President Yanukovych and his government agreed to partner with leaders of the opposition party and offered new terms in the hopes of calming the protestors. Many in the anti-government groups felt the terms were not enough and protestors increased their actions, taking control of more government buildings and demanding that elections be held in May. President Yanukovych made the decision to flee Kiev and in turn, the government voted to remove him from power and put Olexander Turchynov in charge as a temporary president until elections could be held on May 25th.

Then on February 28th, the Russian parliament authorized President Vladimir Putin to send troops into the Crimea region of Ukraine.

Crimea is an autonomous republic with an independent parliament and constitution that works in concordance with the laws of Ukraine. It's location in the southern part of the country, a peninsula that extends into Black Sea. A majority of the people living in the region consider themselves Russian. Tensions grew in this region after a group of armed men took control of government buildings and raised a Russian flag. There were pro-Russia marches in the streets and the new, temporary government on Kiev viewed this as a direct challenge to their authority.

In response to the situation, Putin sent Russian troops into the region and effectively took control of the peninsula causing an uproar from the Ukrainian government and the international community, including the United States. The facts are confusing and interpretations depend on who's perspective you believe.

Russia's foreign minister Sergey V. Lavrov, in a speech to the UN Human Rights Council explained that Russian troops were in Crimea to protect ethnic Russians from Ukrainian nationalists that are "anti-Russian and anti-Semitic". Those claims are at the center of the current debate about the invasion and there have even been petitions circulated by area residents admonishing Putin and claiming that they do not need other countries to defend their interests.

So in the midst of all this turmoil, the Ukrainian national football team is scheduled to play the United States Men's National Team in Cyprus on Wendesday. The match was originally scheduled to be held in Kharkiv, but was moved in the wake of the violent protests. After various reports came out on Monday that the Ukrainian players were refusing the travel and that the match was cancelled, US Soccer rushed to counter that news, assuring everyone the match was going forward.

We may never know the truth about those reports or of their validity but there's likely a grain of truth to them. Perhaps some elements of the Ukrainian team didn't want to play the match. Perhaps it was a small contigent, perhaps more. It's possible that they decided to play the match and it's also possible that the Ukrainian federation forced them to do so. Whatever the case, we're left with a game that is probably better off not being played.

For the US players involved, it's just another step in World Cup preparations. For the Ukrainian players, it's a game that now must be played while their country is in the middle of an extremely confusing and dangerous time. Perhaps they need this distraction, perhaps they don't care one bit about politics, but whatever the case, at some level they all have to be affected by the current situation in their home nation.

How that effects their play remains to be seen but I'm not sure I'd be particularly concerned with the outcome of an ultimately meaningless friendly match.

As I explained, this began in November of last year and the match itself was scheduled in mid-January, just as the violent protests were beginning to erupt. It took over a month -- until February 25th -- for the match to be moved from Kharkiv to Cyprus.

But it shouldn't have gotten this far. The match should have been called off long ago out of respect for the situation that was unfolding in Ukraine.

Some things are more important than a soccer match, even ones that will help a coach determine the final members of his World Cup roster. Yes, that is Jurgen Klinsmann's job and primary focus, it's what he's paid to do. It's the primary goal of the U.S. team. Perhaps though this would have been a good time to realize that whatever they gain from this charade on Wednesday might end up being something far more negative than positive.

Or perhaps it's just a soccer match.

Someone will win, someone will lose, they might even draw. Whatever the case it's going to leave a bad taste in my mouth.

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