Ahead of Friday's draw in Kyiv, Euro 2012 promises plenty of memorable matchups, as the strongest possible lineup according to the UEFA rankings have qualified to play in Poland and Ukraine.
Even before the draw for 16-team tournament is held Friday, it's safe to assume that the showcase for soccer's strongest continent will live up to its tradition of delivering high-quality matches over three intense weeks.
Even FIFA President Sepp Blatter said he saw too many dull group-stage games last year at the monthlong, 32-team World Cup, which gave Europe only 13 places.
"It's definitely better than the World Cup," soccer analyst and author Simon Kuper told The Associated Press. "There are far fewer weaker teams here."
England coach Fabio Capello agrees.
"At this moment (the European Championship) is tougher than the World Cup," said Capello, whose team was ousted by Germany in the round of 16 in South Africa. "The teams that finished first, second and third in the World Cup came from Europe."
That trio — world and European champion Spain, the Netherlands and Germany — still head FIFA's world rankings, with only South American champion Uruguay challenging the balance of power. Kuper offers a simple explanation.
"The most technically advanced football is played here," the Paris-based writer of "Soccernomics" said in a telephone interview. "Argentina and Brazil produce better individual players still, but they don't produce better teams. We seem to be tactically and physically better."
The trend toward European domination started in 1970, after Brazil peaked in its Pele-inspired World Cup win, Kuper suggested.
It took until Euro '96 for UEFA's event to start to rival the World Cup for status and popularity. Then, the soccer heartland of England hosted a tournament that doubled in size to a 16-team format.
"It got a lot of hype and also you get the former Yugoslav and Soviet bloc teams competing," Kuper explained.
Talented teams from newly independent Czech Republic and Croatia rode a wave of national pride, and gave European soccer a fresh feel.
"You get the excitement when a country plays its first tournament," Kuper said, pointing to Slovenia (2000) and Latvia (2004), who also reached a Euro before a World Cup.
Kevin Miles, an English member of the Football Supporters Europe network, suggested visiting fans also get a better deal at the Euros: a bigger share of ticket allocations, cheaper prices, and mobile "embassies" giving free and practical information in host cities.
"UEFA, as an organizer, is much more in tune with the requirements of fans and how to deal with them," Miles said. "FIFA can learn a lot from UEFA about how to treat fans."
UEFA also scores well because its signature event is relatively scandal-free, on the field and when choosing host nations, according to Kuper.
"There seems to have been less things going wrong than with World Cups," he said.
The Euros have proved as attractive to broadcasters and sponsors as FIFA's money-spinner.
UEFA earned then $2 billion from the 31-match Euro 2008 hosted by Austria and Switzerland. The 64-match 2010 World Cup banked $3.65 billion for FIFA.
Still, many commentators believe UEFA has fussed with a winning formula by expanding Euro 2016 in France to include 24 of Europe's 53 countries.
The six-group format will likely offer fewer must-see matchups, and reward defensive play with a place in the last-16 knockout phase.
"By definition, it will be diluted," Kuper said. "These lesser teams defend because that is the easiest thing to learn."
All the more reason, perhaps, to savor the potential purity of Euro 2012.
-- Graham Dunbar
Germany downplays expectations in tough group
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Billed as the nation most capable of ending Spain's reign as European champions, Germany could have an unusually tough time just getting out of the group stage at Euro 2012.
In one of the most anticipated matchup of the tournament's first phase, Germany was handed a tantalizing duel against its fiercest and nearest rival, the Netherlands, in Friday's draw. If that wasn't a big enough challenge, next June, three-time champion Germany was also pooled with Portugal and Denmark in Group B — widely seen as by far the toughest of the tournament.
"I've seen all the coaches in our group, and none of them looked happy," Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk said.
Germany team manager Oliver Bierhoff, though, sees an upside to the tough competition.
With his youthful team swimming in plaudits since impressing during its run to the 2010 World Cup semifinals, Bierhoff said the draw is "very good to cool the recent euphoria."
Bierhoff knows all about winning a European title, having scored both goals in a 2-1 victory against the Czech Republic in the 1996 final to give the Germans their third continental crown.
After opening against Portugal on June 9, Germany faces the Netherlands four days later before rounding off the group stage against Denmark on June 17.
"We have a very tough group, perhaps the toughest group in the tournament," Bierhoff said. "We will be well prepared and have the quality to beat all the teams. It could be the worst group on paper, especially also with the rivalry that we have with Holland."
Germany and the Netherlands have faced off eight times in major tournaments, winning three games each and drawing the other two matches.
But Germany outclassed the Netherlands 3-0 in a friendly last month — a defeat Van Marwijk branded "embarrassing."
"Germany didn't drop a point in qualifiers and our last meeting in Hamburg was a clear warning," Netherlands captain Mark van Bommel said.
The Dutch, who won Euro '88 after beating Germany in the semifinals, must open against Denmark just as they did at the World Cup where they reached the final, losing to Spain.
"Denmark is 11th in the FIFA rankings and is our 'weakest' opposition," Van Marwijk said. "But they finished ahead of Portugal in qualification."
And stifling Portugal winger Cristiano Ronaldo will be key — as the Germans discovered when eliminating them in the Euro 2008 quarterfinals.
"Every time it is hard and difficult to play against him," Bierhoff said. "We did very well in 2008. We will have to see how we do it now. The best thing would be not to let him get the ball so he doesn't have the space or the time to make all those tricks. For this, we have time now."
And the Germans have time to continue maturing, having swept through qualifying with a perfect record.
"We are more experienced and more grown up (since the World Cup)," Bierhoff said. "We have the choices of two or three other new players like Toni Kroos. So I think we grew during the qualification. You could see that. But you still have to win a tournament to be a big team.
"It helps that our young players get experience in the Champions League at the big clubs. You can see that especially with Mesut Oezil or with Sami Khedira (at Real Madrid). When they are together with the best players in the world they become better too and also so does the performance of the team."
-- Rob Harris
Italy faces ex-coach Trapattoni's Ireland at Euros
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Being drawn against his homeland at Euro 2012 doesn't just give Ireland's Italian coach Giovanni Trapattoni a difficult and emotional matchup at next year's tournament.
He'll also have to revise the team's preparations before even traveling to Poland and Ukraine.
"Trapattoni told me that he wanted to bring Ireland to train in Italy before the tournament," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said after Friday's draw in Kyiv. "But now he will change his plans."
Leading Ireland into its first major tournament since the 1994 World Cup gives Trapattoni a chance to restore his reputation on the international stage, having seen his Italy side exit in the group stage during a dismal Euro 2004.
Trapattoni had already seen Ireland drawn against world and European champion Spain when Italy's name came out of a miniature ball on the stage at Kyiv's Palace of Arts.
"(I) wanted to avoid Italy because they are strong mentally and because we know each other," Trapattoni said. "But we knew we had to face strong opponents. I hope we don't do ourselves harm in that match and that we get to June 18th already calm."
Before Italy and Ireland meet in Poznan on June 14 they must negotiate matches against holder Spain and Croatia in Group C.
But Trapattoni, the oldest coach at the Euros at 72, has already got the better of Prandelli with Ireland, winning 2-0 in a friendly in June.
"It is dangerous in this situation because they could prepare better," Trapattoni said. "It's important we remember this lesson. ... I must convince my players it will be another game. Italy know us very well and Croatia is a strong team because there are creative players in Croatia. They are very strong."
While Ireland was ranked 21st in the latest FIFA world rankings, Italy was ninth.
"Knowing Trapattoni, he will try until the last second to achieve something prestigious," Prandelli said. "But the important thing is that we arrive prepared and with the right mentality because it's going to be a challenging group."
By comparison, opening Group C against Croatia should be easier for Ireland.
"Realistically, we don't only have hope, we feel a real possibility and real chances to pass the group stage," Croatia coach Slaven Bilic said. "Spain are the favorites for the tournament, I think Italy, Ireland and Croatia have equal chances to be the second team."
While Spain finished qualifying with a perfect record, Vicente Del Bosque's side has looked far from impressive in friendlies recently, losing four against leading sides — including Italy in August.
"The fact that we beat them in a friendly certainly gives us courage because it means we can compete against them," Prandelli said.
-- Rob Harris
Ukraine soccer chief hails Euro 2012 event
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Co-hosting the 2012 European Championship is important for Ukraine's political integration, the former Soviet republic's soccer leader said Friday.
Hrihoriy Surkis said it would have been "a disaster" for Ukraine's relations in Europe if it had lost co-hosting rights with Poland because of delays building stadiums and crucial infrastructure projects.
"This would be a refusal of European integration," said Surkis, a former member of Ukraine's parliament. "We would have lost the trust and confidence and the image of the country would be very low."
Instead, Ukraine will receive global attention Friday when 150 countries broadcast the 16-nation Euro 2012 draw, being staged in the Soviet-era Palace of Arts in Kyiv.
Ukraine had numerous minor problems to solve before the June 8 opening match, Surkis said through a translator at the Olympic Stadium, which will stage the final on July 1.
Rebuilding the 70,000-capacity venue was UEFA's main condition for allowing Ukraine to retain hosting rights, and the project overran by at least $100 million, the soccer federation president said.
Surkis said Ukrainians — who speak their native language or Russian, which use the Cyrillic alphabet — must learn to "charm" visitors, and be more like other Europeans.
"This is our problem. We don't speak, like people do in Europe, all kinds of languages," he said.
Ukraine is giving language training to service workers at restaurants, border crossing airports and police to prepare for the expected influx of visitors during the three-week tournament.
Surkis said Ukraine's modernization was part of a "five-year renaissance," after UEFA awarded it and neighbor Poland co-hosting rights in April 2007.
The 62-year-old official likened the project to a Soviet-style, five-year plan to build facilities such as hydro-electric power plants.
"Under the Communist Party leadership those things were built," Surkis said.
Amid widespread doubts about Ukraine's ability to deliver upgrades costing billions of dollars during a global financial crisis, one presidential meeting was singled out as vital to the project's progress.
UEFA President Michel Platini met Ukraine's newly elected leader Viktor Yanukovych in Kyiv in April 2010 seeking guarantees for his showpiece football tournament.
"Platini left his office and told me sincerely, 'Well, I trust this man, he is very confident,'" Surkis said.
Yanukovych said Friday that Euro 2012 preparations were "catastrophic" when the UEFA head visited.
"During four hours he (Platini) tried to convince me that there wasn't even the tiniest chance to build everything in less than two years," Yanukovych told Israeli daily Haaretz in an interview published on his official website. "During the final hour I tried to convince him of the opposite."
Still, Ukraine has not won universal acclaim.
Politicians in Europe and the United States have criticized a seven-year jail sentence given to Yulia Tymoshenko, the defeated rival in Yanukovych's election victory. She denies charges relating to her handling of a gas import contract with Russia.
Asked if the issue could cast a shadow on Euro 2012, Surkis said he left politics to be "distant from the controversy that might take place between particular political forces."
"In essence it is important because for the first time in the history of our country (that) the prime minister is sentenced," Surkis said. "I hope that ... Mrs. Tymoshenko herself has an opportunity to prove herself innocent."
-- Graham Dunbar
Makers of criticized World Cup ball make changes
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Accepting widespread criticism of the Jabulani's movement at last year's World Cup, Adidas has completely redesigned the ball that will be used at the 2012 European Championship.
The swerving Jabulani angered several coaches in South Africa and was even cited as a possible cause for "inexplicable" goalkeeping mistakes in an official FIFA report.
The Euro 2012 ball that was revealed at Friday's draw for the tournament in Poland and Ukraine is named after — and based on — the classic Tango design used in the 1980s.
"We take every criticism seriously. We are developing the ball and the product we have. We have learned," Adidas chief executive Herbert Hainer said. "The criticism of the ball was that when it was kicked hard it flew further than they thought.
"There were two aspects. First of all we try to make the ball as round as possible so it can fly faster. Secondly we played at altitude (in South Africa) and the ball flew further. Of course, we are taking all the criticism and input. This ball has more stability than any other ball. The matte finish gives more grip to the ball, which players like."
A disguised Tango 12 has been tested in eight European countries, including Spain and Germany, and all 16 Euro 2012 finalists will receive balls this month.
With a new bladder inside the ball — key to the bounce — Adidas said players should find it easier to control than the Jabulani with a "true, stable flight path."
"All we have heard so far is very positive," Hainer said. "Goalkeepers don't like it when they concede goals. We had Petr Cech and Manuel Neuer testing the ball. They are both happy."
-- Rob Harris
Nancy pulls out of hosting Euro 2016 games
PARIS (AP) — Nancy has pulled out of hosting games at the 2016 European Championship because of a financial disagreement between the French city and companies bidding for the renovation of the Marcel Picot stadium.
Nancy was among the 11 cities picked by the French Football Federation to host Euro 2016, but it needed to expand the Marcel Picot stadium's capacity from about 20,000 to 32,000 in order to comply with the UEFA requirements.
However, Nancy and the two companies bidding for the renovation of the stadium, Bouygues and Vinci, could not reach an agreement over the financing.
That leaves Saint-Denis, Marseille, Lyon, Paris, Lille, Lens, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Saint-Etienne and Nice as the cities that will host the tournament in 2016.
Ukraine women activists strip to protest Euro 2012
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian women's rights activists have staged a topless demonstration at Kyiv's Olympic Stadium to protest what they say are attempts to legalize prostitution during the 2012 European Championship.
Five members of the Femen group chanted slogans and displayed banners criticizing tournament organizer UEFA. Femen spokeswoman Inna Shevchenko says UEFA is "trying to influence our government" to legalize prostitution during the June 8-July 1 tournament. UEFA is making the draw Friday.
Kyiv police arrived at the gates of the downtown stadium five minutes later. The women were dragged into a police vehicle and driven away. Femen has established an international reputation for staging semi-naked protests in Ukraine and abroad.
Chelsea facing tough test at Newcastle
LONDON (AP) — A week after slowing Manchester United's title challenge, Newcastle will look to do the same to struggling Chelsea and provide further evidence of its ability to compete with the Premier League's top teams this season.
Newcastle is holding its own among exalted company at the top of the division, with a 1-1 draw at second-place United keeping the northeast side fourth and still in the Champions League positions.
Chelsea is a point and a place behind Newcastle going into Saturday's match at St. James' Park and is looking to bounce back from a 2-0 loss to Liverpool in the League Cup quarterfinals — its fifth defeat in nine games that has increased the pressure on manager Andre Villas-Boas.
"Saturday is a tough game but one to look forward to, especially on the back of a fantastic result at Manchester United last weekend," Newcastle goalkeeper Tim Krul said.
"Our confidence is sky high. It is perhaps a good time to play Chelsea. We are full of confidence and they maybe are a little bit down because they are not on such a good run."
With unbeaten Manchester City setting a fierce pace at the summit, five points ahead of United and 10 ahead of Chelsea, Villas-Boas' team realistically cannot afford another slip-up.
However, Newcastle is confounding most pundits' pre-campaign expectations by maintaining its form into the busy Christmas period, the draw at United coming after an impressive display in a 3-1 loss at City that ended its undefeated record this season.
Villas-Boas continues to insist he has the backing of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich but acknowledges that December, during which his team also plays City and third-place Tottenham in the league and has a "do-or-die" Champions League match against Valencia, will be crucial.
"Conversations have been ongoing with the board and they have been fully supportive," Villas-Boas said.
"We are not avoiding our responsibilities towards this year, that is for sure. If we look back at our position that we finish in the league at the end of the season, we would look back at this period always as a period when we might just have lost track of our points."
There will be a minute's applause at all 10 Premier League games this weekend in honor of Gary Speed, the Wales national team manager who died on Sunday.
Tributes will be particularly emotional at Newcastle and Everton, two of the clubs Speed played for and captained in a distinguished career.
"Our players will be desperate for us to win to pay a tribute in that way," Newcastle manager Alan Pardew said. "He was a great player here and a captain of this club, and he has been a big loss to us this week."
City is at home to Norwich on Saturday, with all talk of Roberto Mancini's team going through the season unbeaten like Arsenal's "Invincibles" of 2003-04 being downplayed.
"We don't think about this record. We just want to play as well as we can every single game," said City defender Kolo Toure, a member of that Arsenal team.
"When you start thinking about it, you play without control. For me, we just need to relax, go out, do our best and win the game. At Arsenal, we never thought about it, it never came into my mind."
Elsewhere Saturday, United visits Aston Villa, in-form Tottenham hosts Bolton bidding to extend its unbeaten run to 11 games, seventh-place Arsenal travels to next-to-last Wigan and Queens Park Rangers is at home to West Bromwich. Blackburn is bottom of the table heading into its home match against Swansea.
On Sunday, Everton hosts Stoke and Wolverhampton Wanderers is at home to Sunderland, which will be managed by assistant coach Eric Black following the sacking of Steve Bruce on Wednesday after a dreadful run of results that has left the team fifth from bottom.
Sixth-place Liverpool visits Fulham on Monday.
-- Steve Douglas
AC Milan beats 10-man Genoa 2-0 in Serie A
MILAN (AP) — Zlatan Ibrahimovic's penalty helped AC Milan beat 10-man Genoa 2-0 Friday to provisionally move top of Serie A following a game that was suspended for around 10 minutes after tear gas filled parts of the Stadio Luigi Ferraris.
Ibrahimovic struck in the 56th minute after he was brought down in the area by former Milan defender Kakha Kaladze, who was also dismissed following a second booking.
It was Ibrahimovic's fourth goal in three games and his eighth in Serie A this season.
"We're playing very well, with a lot of confidence, even away from home, where we're dominating possession and attacking," the Sweden striker said. "So what the other teams do, they do, but we have to continue with this spirit and this confidence. If we keep going as we are then I don't see what can upset us."
Antonio Nocerino, who played five games for Genoa, doubled Milan's lead in the 79th, shortly after Robinho had missed a good opportunity for the visiting side.
Milan moves a point clear of Juventus, which faces second-from-bottom Cesena on Sunday.
The players left the field temporarily in the first half because of the tear gas, which was reportedly released by police officers outside the stadium.
Alexandre Pato, who scored for Milan in the 4-0 victory over Chievo last Sunday, missed the game with a fever, so Robinho started up front with Ibrahimovic.
Milan could have gone in front after just 90 seconds. Ibrahimovic sent a long ball over the defense to Nocerino, who raced into the middle of the area, but Marco Rossi did well to muscle him off the ball and Genoa goalkeeper Sebastien Frey gathered up the danger.
Minutes later it was Genoa who had a decent opportunity as Rossi set up Lucas Pratto, but Thiago Silva cleared just as the Argentine striker was about to shoot.
Milan could easily have been 2-0 up as Robinho first blazed his shot over the bar before Nocerino failed to score what seemed a certain goal against his old team. The midfielder latched on to Ibrahimovic's long pass but shot straight at the onrushing Frey.
The game was then suspended in the 15th minute when the tear gas was released.
Most of the players returned to the dressing room, while some fans were visibly affected. Local media reports said the tear gas was released by police to disperse some supporters outside the stadium.
Milan missed a good chance to take the lead 10 minutes after the game restarted as Kevin Prince Boateng released Robinho down the left flank. The Brazilian put in a low ball across the face of goal, but there was no Milan player there to take advantage.
Genoa had its best opportunity in the 34th when it won a free kick on the far right of goal. Miguel Veloso tried to surprise Marco Amelia with a swerving shot which the Milan goalkeeper did well to tip over the bar.
Genoa tried its luck again from a tight angle minutes later as Giandomenico Mesto's shot flew just the wrong side of the far post.
Veloso could have given Genoa a first-half lead with a powerful 20-yard effort which Amelia did well to smother.
But the hosts made their task a lot tougher shortly after the interval. As Ibrahimovic controlled the ball and attempted to lift it past Kaladze, the Genoa defender caught the Sweden striker's leg and brought him down.
Kaladze, who won eight trophies in nine seasons with Milan, was handed a second yellow card and dismissed. Ibrahimovic stepped up to the spot and lashed a perfect shot into the top left, sending Frey the wrong way.
Robinho should have doubled Milan's lead four minutes later as he missed a great opportunity. Nocerino stole the ball from Dario Dainelli as it was about to go out for a goal kick and crossed for Robinho, who was practically on the goal line but somehow managed to blaze over from point-blank range.
"He's a good person with a big heart," Ibrahimovic said. "These things have also happened to me. At the moment my shots are going in and his aren't. But as soon as one goes in, others will too."
Nocerino scored from almost exactly the same position 11 minutes from time when he fired home Boateng's cross.
Genoa had missed a chance to level five minutes earlier. Alexander Merkel found Rossi in the area, and the Genoa captain sent a neat sidefooted shot towards goal which sailed just past the right hand post from six yards.
-- Daniella Matar
Sam seals 2-0 win for Leverkusen over Hoffenheim
BERLIN (AP) — Sidney Sam sealed a 2-0 win for Bayer Leverkusen to ensure Hoffenheim's miserable Bundesliga run continued on Friday.
Sam scored in the 79th minute with a neat chip over goalkeeper Tom Starke after Stefan Kiessling headed on a long ball forward from Leverkusen keeper Bernd Leno.
Eren Derdiyok opened the scoring in the 11th, when he followed up Andre Schuerrle's free kick to head in the rebound from Starke's save.
"We're getting to the stage where we're winning the games in which we perhaps didn't play so well," Leverkusen coach Robin Dutt said.
Sam wasted a great chance in the 32nd, shooting on goal instead of passing to one of three teammates facing only two Hoffenheim defenders.
"It was 50-50. You pass or score. I decided to try and score and unfortunately it didn't work out," Sam said.
Hoffenheim should have scored immediately afterward on a counterattack, but Ryan Babel fired over from close range after Peniel Mlapa whipped in a cross.
It remained Hoffenheim's best chance, and only Starke prevented Schuerrle and Lars Bender from putting Leverkusen further ahead.
"We put in so much effort to create chances," said Hoffenheim coach Holger Stanislawski. "We cannot score as many goals as we're conceding."
It was the fifth Bundesliga game in a row without a win for Hoffenheim, which has never beaten Leverkusen.
Leverkusen remains sixth, while Hoffenheim drops to 10th ahead of the weekend's games.
-- Ciaran Fahey
Marseille beats Caen 2-1 in French league
PARIS (AP) — Marseille made up ground in the race for a European spot Friday as the Ayew brothers led the 2010 champion to a 2-1 win over Caen in the French league.
Andre Ayew notched his sixth goal this season to put Marseille ahead in the 21st minute. Caen leveled two minutes later with a penalty from Pierre-Alain Frau after goalkeeper Steve Mandanda had brought down Livio Nabab, but Jordan Ayew capitalized on a counterattack to score the winner in the 52nd.
Marseille trails leader Montpellier by nine points.
"We showed team spirit and a lot of willpower," Marseille midfielder Morgan Amalfitano said.
Andre-Pierre Gignac was back in the Marseille squad after apologizing for insulting coach Didier Deschamps, and came off the bench in the 78th to replace Jordan Ayew. But the match ended badly for Gignac, who picked up a groin injury in stoppage time.
Gignac and Cameroon midfielder Stephane M'Bia are doubtful for the Champions League match against Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday. M'Bia suffered an ankle injury and was replaced by Benoit Cheyrou in the 57th.
"We didn't have a great game like last Sunday but the players dug deep to go and get the points," Deschamps said. "We're having a good run by taking 15 points out of 18 in our last league matches."
Marseille beat bitter rival Paris Saint-Germain 3-0 last weekend.
On Saturday, it's: Ajaccio vs. Lille; Brest vs. Saint-Etienne; Dijon vs. Sochaux; Evian vs. Valenciennes; Montpellier vs. Lorient; and Nice vs. Rennes. On Sunday, Paris Saint-Germain hosts Auxerre, Lyon faces Toulouse and Nancy visits Bordeaux.
Sounders GK Boss, D Graham announce retirements
TUKWILA, Wash. (AP) — The Seattle Sounders FC have announced the retirements of backup goalkeeper Terry Boss and reserve defender Taylor Graham.
The Sounders made the announcements on Friday. Boss had previously posted on Twitter his intention to retire due to complications from concussions.
Boss spent three seasons in Seattle backing up starter Kasey Keller, but was key in Seattle's dominant U.S. Open Cup run and in the CONCACAF Champions League. Boss suffered a series of concussions this season. He previously played two seasons with New York in the MLS.
Graham signed with Seattle in 2009 after spending three season playing for the Sounders USL franchise. Graham played in one MLS game and nine other matches across other competitions in his time with Seattle.
Sporting K.C. gets Convey from Earthquakes
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Sporting Kansas City has acquired midfielder Bobby Convey from the San Jose Earthquakes in exchange for an international roster slot for 2012.
The 28-year-old Convey spent the last three seasons in San Jose, where he was an MLS All-Star in 2010 and 2011. He has 11 goals and 30 assists in 164 appearances in Major League Soccer.
He was the youngest player ever to sign with Major League Soccer prior to the 2000 season, joining D.C. United at the age of 16. In 2006, he was on the 23-man squad that travelled to Germany for the 2006 World Cup.
Beckham visits abused kids in Manila
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Away from fans' prying eyes, David Beckham took time out from soccer to share his experiences and listen to Filipino children struggling to rebuild their broken lives.
"It's so important to have a dream," Beckham told the former street children Friday at a UNICEF-supported shelter in a suburb of Manila, the Philippine capital where he and his teammates from the Los Angeles Galaxy are playing an exhibition against the country's national team this weekend.
On the sidelines of the Galaxy's Manila trip, Beckham, who is also a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, visited the shelter for children who have been rescued from the streets. They shared tales of domestic abuse and crime — some fell victim to drugs or were abandoned by their parents.
Wearing a black UNICEF T-shirt, the 36-year-old former England captain listened intently in a private conversation with a group of five children and told them how he started playing when he was 7 years old and eventually achieving his dream of playing for Manchester United.
UNICEF asked that the names of the children and the shelter not be disclosed to protect their privacy.
Conan, a 17-year-old who was abandoned by his parents when he was 7, told Beckham that he dreams of joining the Philippine team and later becoming a coach.
He played in the Street Children's Football World Cup last year in South Africa, where the Philippines beat South Africa 2-1.
The younger children were awe-struck while listening to one of the world's best known athletes.
One 12-year-old girl named Shaina said she wants to be a nurse to help the sick. She often held Beckham's hand as she and the other children guided him around the facility, unfazed by the tattoos that adorn his arms.
Beckham told the UNICEF staff it was incredible that the children had gone through "so much in such a short space of time in their young lives" and learned responsibility and respect.
He said he was lucky to have had the support of both his parents and it was "so sad to see so many children that don't have that support, don't have that love."
He later listened to JM, a former drug user who turned 18 on Friday, sing a rap song in the Filipino language on how drugs ruin lives. After a staff translated the song for Beckham, he gave him a double thumbs up, saying, "You're good!"
The shelter that houses 136 kids has a small soccer field surrounded by separate cottages for boys and girls, a school, a basketball court and a training facility where children learn to sew clothes and cut hair.
Beckham posed with the children for a picture wearing a blue graduation gown and cap made at the sewing room, where he also tried his hand at making a pillow case.
"What struck me the most about coming into the center was it was a real happy place, a real inspiring place," he told The Associated Press. "They are teaching kids unbelievable values. Every child I spoke to today — they all have dreams, they all have inspirations."
A father of four children, Beckham said it was "heartbreaking to think majority of these children haven't got parents, or haven't got parents to care for them and love them."
Beckham said that because of work, it's been difficult for him "to do some of the things I would like to do — going out into the field like I obviously have today."
"I think it is important to raise awareness to many issues around the world, many worries around the world," he said. "In my position, thankfully, I can create that kind of interest and awareness to things that are happening around the world."
A highlight of his visit was a brief practice followed by a short game in which he joined one half of the shelter's team.
The star sweated under the midday sun as he helped their shoeless goalkeeper. His side lost 1-0.
-- Oliver Teves
German player awarded damages in contract dispute