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Between the Lines

Hernandez loyalty pledge to Galaxy rings hollow; MLS jumps to accept.

By Gary Davidson
SoccerTimes

(Wednesday, January 31, 2001) -- Those inclined to read between the lines would as likely to chuckle, if not just laugh out loud, rather than take seriously the press release distributed yesterday by the Los Angeles Galaxy.

"Forward Luis Hernandez reaffirmed his loyalty to the Galaxy this afternoon in a statement to the press," the release trumpeted.

"I feel very happy about the Galaxy winning the CONCACAF Champions' Cup," Hernandez told the media gathering. "I was eager to join my team and help them in this very important tournament, but unluckily it was not possible."

Unluckily?

That comment would be humorous, if it was not such as sad statement of how Major League Soccer has been repeatedly victimized by the petulance of its imported "star" players who more often than not provide minimal to no return either at the box office or on the field while collecting large salaries and extravagant perks from the league.

If Hernandez felt even the least loyalty to the Galaxy or MLS, he would have reported to play Los Angelesí recent quarterfinal and, if necessary, semifinal Champions Cup matches as he had promised. He wasnít even asked to stay for the tournamentís championship match -- won by L.A. without Hernandez -- because a semifinal victory earned the big prize, advancement to this summerís world club championship in Spain with its multimillion dollar guarantee.

Instead, Hernandez begged off, claiming a mysterious injury which conveniently healed in time for him to play for his Mexican League team Club Americaís big match that weekend with Toluca thus playing two days before and two days after the Galaxy games he missed. Keep in mind, Hernandez is under contract to MLS and loaned to Club America, not the other way around.

Hernandezís pledge of devotion to the Galaxy was the strikerís way of insuring he will be paid a seven-figure salary for the 2001 MLS season despite missing the first month or two to complete the Mexican season. And MLS could not be more agreeable in looking the other way. After Hernandezís no-show at the Champions Cup, the league certainly could have found grounds to void his contract, sue him for damages or simply dumped his contract to the highest bidder.

MLS dutifully reported, "Hernandez, who missed the Galaxy's 2000 Champions' Cup victory, was unable to attend due to a ribcage injury and the decision by Club America head coach Alfio Basile to withhold him from the tournament to prevent further damage to the injury."

Hernandez is currently in Los Angeles with Mexicoís national team for a friendly against Colombia tonight, and will stay with Club America until the end of the Torneo de Verano (summer tournament) of 2001, which will end in May. If history is a guide, he will take his time before reporting to Los Angeles.

Hernandez surely will join the Galaxy in plenty of time to accompany the club onto the world stage in Spain, for which he can expect a sizable bonus for his participation. His presence, however, is also symptomatic of MLSís flawed conviction that it must bring in international players to appeal large ethnic populations in league cities.

Beyond the fact that these players are invariably beyond their prime playing form, they seldom have produced any significant results to their teams in the standings or at the box office. Worse, they have made MLS look foolish with their irresponsible behavior. The picture of German defender Lothar Matthaeus lounging on a French Riviera beach with his model girlfriend while supposedly being too hurt to play for the MetroStars spoke volumes of the low regard with which these prima donnas hold the league.

Doctorís orders, Matthaeus explained his unique therapy. Warm sand is medicinal. For the million dollars the league paid him, would it be unreasonable for the MetroStars to expect him to report daily to the teamís trainer for rehabilitation? It would seem not, but MLS officials seemed reticent to press the point, as is the case now with Hernandez.

For every success story such as Hristo Stoitchkov is Chicago, there are three failures, including the unshakable belief the Galaxy must have a "name" Mexican player . Preceding Hernandez in Los Angeles, goalkeeper Jorge Campos gave MLS one good season before holding the league hostage for the next two. Striker Carlos Hermosillo, well past his prime, commanded a large pricetag, but paid virtually no dividend either on the field or at the gate.

MLS seems to think these big-name players bring prestige to a young league. The exact opposite happens when the international soccer communities snickers when these players walk all over MLS officials.

In the meantime, the top two goal scorers in MLS history make half or less of the league maximum and are traded annually. Solid players such as midfielder Tony Sanneh and high-scoring striker Ante Razov have been low-balled to the point there was no reasonable alternative than to move overseas. But the leagueís failure to build strong relationships between its players and their local fans is a story for another day.

Gary Davidson is managing editor of SoccerTimes and can be e-mailed at editor@soccertimes.com.

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