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Opinions at MLS Combine mixed on decision to expand World Cup to 48 teams

CARSON, Calif. – FIFA’s decision on Tuesday to expand the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams beginning in 2016 generated plenty of reaction around the world, and coaches and executives at the MLS Combine were mixed in their opinions on the decision.

New York City FC director of football operations Claudio Reyna (above), who was on the US roster at the 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2006 World Cups and racked up 112 career international appearances, is staunchly against expanding the tournament.

“I think it’s going to take away a lot of the drama in terms of the qualifying as well as at the World Cup, so I’m not in favor of it,” Reyna said. “I thought 32 was a good, round number. Again, I just think that the excitement of the qualification is going to be taken away, basically every team who’s competitive seems like they’re going to make it.”

However, Atlanta United FC technical director Carlos Bocanegra, a veteran of the 2006 and 2010 World Cups who totaled 110 USMNT appearances, took a more of a wait-and-see approach.

“It’ll be the first time, so we’ve got to try to be open-minded that this is how it’s going to be,” he said. “I think I saw it was [16 groups of three teams], so we’ll see.

“Look, it’s going to be competitive. It’s the World Cup. People are still going to be excited about it, just kind of take it as it goes and be open-minded about it.”

One obvious positive of the expanded tournament is that it’ll give smaller nations and countries who’ve struggled to qualify in the current format a better shot at advancing to the big dance. One such country is, of course, Canada, who haven’t qualified for the World Cup since 1986 and haven’t advanced to the CONCACAF Hexagonal since the 1998 World Cup cycle.

“Obviously it can only help Canadian soccer to be on the world stage and have a chance to compete against the best teams in the world,” said Montreal Impact head coach Mauro Biello, who had a handful of caps with the Canadian national team. “I think that is something good because having a good national team is vital for Canadian soccer and the growth of the sport.

“On the financial side of it, it generates a lot of money. It’s a lot more games, it’s going to take a much longer time to host something like that, so it’s also going to be interesting in terms of venues, in terms of managing all those people, fans. But again, it shows that this sport, there’s a demand for it, and in the end it’s growing. You saw Iceland this summer and how they performed [at Euro 2016]. That’s a small, small nation and had all that success. So there’s also a lot of benefits to that.”

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