- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 23, 2002

Soccer/John Haydon

Major League Soccer kicks off its seventh season today trim at the waist and boasting a little more muscle.
The league was reduced to 10 teams with the demise of the Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny, but the remaining clubs benefited in the dispersal draft.
"If there are any positive byproducts [from contraction], it's that we had two great teams with great players who will now make the other 10 teams much better," said MLS commissioner Don Garber.
The New England Revolution and the Colorado Rapids, traditionally weaker teams, gained the most from contraction.
With the addition of offensive stars Mamadou Diallo, Steve Ralston and Alex Pineda Chacon, the Revolution's attacking lineup looks very impressive. That doesn't bode well for D.C. United, which has to contend for a playoff spot in the bolstered Eastern Conference, which includes the Chicago Fire.
Continuing with its belt-tightening, MLS declined to raise the $1.7million team salary cap. Some players were forced to take hefty pay cuts to play in a league showing little mercy in its desire to survive.
"This is no longer a players' league but a teams' league," said former Tampa Bay star Musa Shannon, who was unsuccessful in getting a job with United this season.
There were reports that some United players had to restructure their contracts in order for the club to obtain Honduran star Milton Reyes. Players took another hit this week when a federal appeals court agreed with MLS owners and upheld a jury's decision that rejected the players' claims that the league is an illegal monopoly designed to depress salaries.
All 10 MLS teams are in action today, with the game between Chicago and the host Columbus Crew being televised live by ABC at 4 p.m.
The 26-game regular season will run through Sept. 22. The championship game will be Oct. 20 in Foxboro, Mass.
Meanwhile, for the first time in MLS history it appears all teams now have owner-operators. This week the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) joined Silicon Valley Sports & Entertainment to buy the San Jose Earthquakes; AEG already runs the Colorado Rapids, Chicago Fire, Los Angeles Galaxy, New York-New Jersey MetroStars and United.
MLS also announced that Lamar Hunt's Hunt Sports Group, which also operates Columbus and the Kansas City Wizards, is in final negotiations to take over the Dallas Burn.
Although MLS has lost more than $200 million since its inception in 1996, one team Columbus actually made a profit last year. The Crew is the only team that plays in its own 20,000-seat, soccer-specific stadium.
"To attract more investors in this league, we need profitability," Garber said. "To do that we need stadiums."
MLS may change the format of its All-Star Game, which will be played at RFK Stadium on Aug. 3. Instead of the best players from each conference playing, the league's best may take on an international club team.
The league also is consulting with FIFA, soccer's ruling body, in planning a benefit game in New York on September 11, with the World Cup champion taking on a World All-Star team.
"We are also looking at having that event occur in Washington D.C.," Garber said.
Bring on Germany The U.S. team's World Cup warmup against three-time champion Germany at Rostock, Germany, on Wednesday (ESPN2 same-day tape delay at 10 p.m.) will give coach Bruce Arena a chance to see 12 of his European-based players in action as he prepares his 23-man roster for the Cup.
This game may be the last chance for some players on the bubble like Frankie Hejduk, Steve Cherundolo, Gregg Berhalter and Jovan Kirovski to earn a spot. Kasey Keller will start in goal against Germany, with Tony Meola as the backup.
Rongen on TV Former D.C. United coach Thomas Rongen will be doing the color commentary with play-by-play man Dave Johnson for the 10 United games on Comcast SportsNet, starting tonight at 10 when United opens against the Galaxy.
European action Yesterday's draw for next month's Champions League quarterfinals kept fierce rivals Manchester United and Liverpool apart, but champion Bayern Munich will face eight-time winner Real Madrid.
Meanwhile, Spanish giant Barcelona takes on Greek club Panathinaikos, D.C. United plays Spanish team Deportivo La Coruna and Liverpool meets German team Bayer Leverkusen.
In the UEFA Cup, Inter Milan plays Dutch club Feyenoord, and AC Milan faces Germany's Borussia Dortmund in the semifinals.
Tough on Hispanics In a published interview this week, U.S. men's coach Bruce Arena said immigrant Hispanic youths were "not very good players." He added that U.S. Soccer has looked "extensively" at Hispanics and found "they can't hang" with American players.
Arena must realize that lower-middle class players fail to get training and exposure in America because they can't pay the substantial ($2,000-plus) fees to play on travel teams or attend Olympic Development Programs (ODP).
Youth soccer is big business in the U.S., and players with limited budgets get locked out. As one honest ODP organizer told me recently, "In Europe, clubs and coaches exist for the players. In the U.S., players exist for the coaches and clubs."



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