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Jerry's World

MLS attendance should rise, so does salary cap (a bit); observations on U.S. roster announcement.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Monday, December 21, 1998) -- Some thoughts on a potpourri of subjects:

Major League Soccer has no excuse for not having a significant increase in attendance next year. More than 83 percent of the matches will be played on the weekend, 59 percent on Saturdays.

Attendance the first three years has been minuscule on weekdays. MLS attendance has dropped since an auspicious start -- from 17,416 in 1996 to 14,616 in 1997 and 14,312 in 1998. But the increase in action Saturday nights is significant.

In 1998, the MLS play was 71 percent weekends, 49 percent Saturdays. In 1997, it was 88 percent weekends, but just 38 percent Saturdays. In 1996, it was 63 percent weekends, 32 percent Saturdays.

There will be little soccer competition for attendance Saturdays; just seven of the games will be in the afternoon, four of them at 4. The other 104 will be contested in the evening.

The regular season will run two weeks longer -- to October 10. That's OK, providing there is competition for playoff berths, which has been mostly missing in the final stages of the first three seasons.

Look for increased attendance in the playoffs, too, with no mid-week games looming. The problem: if there are playoff sweeps, two-week lulls loom, and sweeps were the norm in 1996-98.

The season won't end until November 21, when MLS Cup '99 is scheduled at Foxborough, Mass., one week later than planned due to an ABC commitment to a golf tournament the preceding Sunday. That's pretty late.

In this day and age of general disconnect in sports-to-public relationships, the response in Columbus (Ohio) to the illness of the nine-year-old son of Crew star Robert Warzycha is heartwarming.

More than $53,000 has been raised for The Waryzcha Family Fund, established to help with the financial hardship brought on when the child, Bartosz, was diagnosed with cancer in late September. Donations have come from more than 300 individuals and organizations from 25 states, two Canadian provinces, Germany, Switzerland, England and his native Poland.

They may be sent to the Columbus Crew office, c/o Warzycha Family Fund, 77 East Nationwide Boulevard, Columbus, Ohio 43215. Make the check payable to Warzycha Family Fund. For additional information, call 614-221-2739.

No sympathies are due juggernaut (Washington) D.C. United as it struggles to cope with the MLS salary cap. Should the cap be higher? Yes. But not much until MLS is closer to making money.

Major League Soccer continues to lose about $20 million a year. Does the salary cap hurt the best teams and work toward .500 records for everyone? Yes and no. Players on winning teams are due significant pay raises, and that can mean cap problems, which could bring the title teams back to the pack.

But some of the worst teams in MLS -- among them the New York/New Jersey MetroStars -- also have problems with the cap, expected to rise five percent from the present $1.6 million.

The key factors in a team's success are player selection (draft, trades, etc.) and player usage (Diego Serna of Miami playing forward rather than defensive midfield) and style of play. They vary from team to team, the difference usually being the coach and general manager of each MLS team.

Congratulations to Jerry Yeagley at Indiana, whose Hoosiers deservedly won the NCAA men's title for the fourth time. We think they should have won two others in the 1990s, so the easy triumphs against Santa Clara and Stanford were overdue. A final against Clemson would have been appropriate, but that was ruined by the NCAA Tournament seeding committee, which incredibly ranked Indiana as No. 8, necessitating a quarterfinal matchup of the two top teams in the nation. Indiana won 2-1 against top-seeded Clemson to advance to the Final Four.

The U.S. training camp roster named by new national team coach Bruce Arena is a mixture of the new and old, culminating in a January 24 trip to Santa Cruz for a match against Bolivia. Among the points of interest:

* John O'Brien, 21, currently starring with FC Ultrecht (Netherlands) at midfield. Will he play that position for the United States?
* Chris Armas, 26, defensive midfield ace with Chicago Fire.
* Jovan Kirovski, 22, withdrawn forward at German second division Fortuna Cologne. Will he play that position for the United States?
* Carlos Llamosa, 29, veteran defender with D.C. United and Colombia native who recently achieved U.S. citizenship. Defense is one of the prime U.S. needs.

In camp besides veterans Eddie Pope and Jeff Agoos, as well as Llamosa, are oft-injured Dutch veteran Gregg Berhalter, 25; impressive MLS first-year performers C.J. Brown, 23, and Leo Cullen, 22; MLS enforcer Matt McKeon, 24, and steady but aging MLS mainstay Robin Fraser, 32.

Cullen played midfield much of the latter part of the 1998 season with Miami Fusion.

Chad Deering, a midfielder, did well at a new defensive position, sweeper, with the Dallas Burn the second half of 1998.

Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at jlangdon@gns.gannett.com.

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