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By ESPN Staff

Blatter to personally invite Obama to World Cup

NEW YORK -- FIFA president Sepp Blatter has specific ideas on upgrading the popularity of soccer in the United States. He hopes he has an eager listener in President Barack Obama.

Blatter plans to extend a personal invitation to Obama to attend the 2010 World Cup in South Africa when the two meet at the White House on Monday.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Sunday, Blatter said the invitation has been extended and that he will "confirm it" at the meeting.

"I know there are people around the president who are football fans, and that they will make everything possible in his agenda that the president be at the opening of the World Cup or the final," Blatter said.

Blatter also plans to discuss the state of U.S. Soccer with the president, including Major League Soccer's spring-through-fall schedule, and the United States' bids to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cup.

"I spoke with [MLS commissioner] Don Garber and [U.S. Soccer president] Sunil Gulati yesterday again," Blatter said. "We want also to have in this country a very strong professional league. The problem is, when they play out of the international season, they never attract the great players from the European market.

"They have to look at it and whether they can change the schedule and enter into the international [fall-to-spring] calendar. We can only suggest."

Blatter, who attended the Gold Cup final between the U.S. team and Mexico at a sold-out Giants Stadium on Sunday, is concerned that MLS can never become entrenched in this country if the best American players aren't playing in it. He noted that 18 of the 23 players on the U.S. squad that finished a stunning second in the Confederations Cup earlier this summer are on European club rosters.

"If they want to be called a major league ... and have this impact of other major leagues like American football, baseball and the NBA, I think they are far away in quality," he said. "I think with the number of participants on the youth level, they should try to do it.

"For the national team, they are not the only one with players mostly not playing inside the country. It's the same as Brazil and Argentina, who have most of their players in Europe. It can't help football in the U.S. if the heroes and stars are not playing here. How can the youth identify with the game?"

The entire soccer movement in the United States could receive a tremendous boost if the 2018 or 2022 World Cup is awarded to the Americans. FIFA will decide in December 2010, with England considered the front-runner for '18 -- Blatter has expressed a preference for bringing the tournament back to Europe after stints in Africa and then South America, where Brazil will host the 2014 World Cup.

Blatter, as always, was noncommittal on the bids. The United States is one of 11 countries that has formally declared its desire to host either event, while Netherlands-Belgium and Portugal-Spain have submitted joint bids.

But he is firm in his support of awarding both tournaments at the same time.

"One big reason is it gives the local organizing committee more time for the preparation of the tournament," he said. "Also, looking at who would be interested in 2018, there were 10 [bidders] indicating they would like to have it. We can not go 10 for one, so we said, `Let's go for two World Cups.'

"It's also very important for our partners -- economic and television -- and for FIFA to know where we will go. The interest is so huge in having the World Cup."

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