Five days after its president was arrested and its Miami Beach headquarters raided by the FBI in the FIFA corruption investigation, the CONCACAF regional soccer federation tried to get back to business as usual on Monday night.
Newly-appointed federation officials, who replaced those implicated in the scandal, hosted the 2015-16 Champions League tournament draw at the New World Symphony on Lincoln Road. Other than the larger-than-usual media presence, there were no signs that the federation — which oversees soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean — was embroiled in the alleged FIFA transgressions.
League and team executives gathered for a reception in the lobby, then headed into the hall for the draw ceremony, which featured women in evening wear plucking ping pong balls out of bowls, and giant tournament highlight video screens set to live classical music.
The event went on without the confederation’s general secretary Enrique Sanz, who earlier Monday was banned by FIFA and CONCACAF from soccer-related activities and last Thursday had been placed on leave of absence by CONCACAF.
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Also missing was CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb, who was arrested last Wednesday — one of seven FIFA officials taken into custody in Zurich, Switzerland, as part of a joint international investigation with the U>S. Department of Justice on charges of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering.
Acting General Secretary Ted Howard of the United States addressed the media after the draw.
“We are working with the authorities, totally complicit with all they are requesting,’’ Howard said. “Things move on. CONCACAF will continue... We have to show by our actions that people in leadership roles have credibility.’’
Asked whether other CONCACAF names may still emerge in the scandal, Howard said: “They haven’t finished their investigation yet, so we don’t know.’’ He added that he had not been questioned by authorities.
Howard said he was “disappointed, shocked that this could happen again after four years ago,’’ referring to the resignation of previous president Jack Warner in 2011 amid allegations of bribes for votes. “But we just know we have to continue and move on. We have major tournaments coming up, 41 member associations to be responsible for. Our job is to make sure we are focused on the right things.’’
Howard said CONCACAF took the proper measures immediately after the news broke last week, setting up a three-person emergency panel made up of U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati, Canadian federation president Victor Montagliani and Mexican soccer president Justino Compean.
“We hope everyone recognizes we are taking positive steps,” he said. “We’re going to show you by our actions, not pounding our chests.’’
Howard, who is based in New York, plans to spend four days a week working out of the Miami Beach office, and said he doesn’t expect the scandal to affect CONCACAF’s ability to host the upcoming Gold Cup this summer.
As for the 24-team draw, it included five teams from Major League Soccer — LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, Real Salt Lake, D.C. United and Vancouver Whitecaps. Rivals Seattle and Vancouver wound up in the same group with Olimpia of Honduras.
The 24 teams were placed into eight groups of three, playing four games from August to October. The top team in each group advances to the knockout stage, starting in February or March 2016.
A: W Connection (Trinidad and Tobago), Saprissa (Costa Rica), Santos Laguna (Mexico)
B: Isidro Metapan (El Salvador), Herediano (Costa Rica), Tigres (Mexico)
C: Verdes FC (Belize), San Francisco FC (Panama), Queretaro (Mexico)
D: Central (Trinidad and Tobago), Communicaciones (Guatemala), LA Galaxy (USA)
E: CD Walter Ferretti (Nicaragua), Motagua (Honduras), Club America (Mexico)
F: Vancouver Whitecaps (Canada), Olimpia (Honduras), Seattle Sounders (USA)
G: Santa Tecla FC (El Salvador), Municipal (Guatemala), Real Salt Lake (USA)
H: Montego Bay United (Jamaica), Arabe Unido (Panama), DC United (USA)