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Jerry's World

MLS needs overtime to provide fair result in playoff games.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Monday, October 19, 1998) -- Despite the protests of purists, Major League Soccer probably can justify the shootout as a way of resolving tie games during the regular season.

We don't like the fact the losing team gets no points. We do like the concept that presumably few if any teams will play for a tie in the closing minutes.

MLS cites television requirements as the primary reason for not having overtime, and it being a new league, we can see the reason for MLS going along. But there is no justification for Major League Soccer not having 30 minutes of sudden-death during the playoffs.

The sport has to take precedence in the postseason. If television is forced to go off the air for other commitments -- as it has done for golf on occasion -- so be it. The world will survive, and a just result will occur in the soccer match as well.

MLS does have the overtime provision for the title game, and it was used in 1996, when D.C. United ousted the Los Angeles Galaxy. But not in the conference semifinal and conference finals, which we find inexcusable.

There were three shootouts in 1996, two in 1997, and four so far in 1998 -- most recent, the Chicago Fire's conquest of the Galaxy Friday night.

We're not saying this on behalf of the Galaxy, whose loss may cost MLS Cup '98 about 20,000 in attendance for Sunday's title match in the Rose Bowl. The Fire is the legitimate Western Conference champion. They beat the Galaxy four out of six games overall and deserve to be in the final.

Chicago is the most heartwarming story in soccer this year, winning with an expansion roster and heavy usage of Eastern Europeans and spectacular fan support in Chicago. We would have liked, however, to see 30 minutes' more action to resolve the deadlock.

The highlights of the Columbus-(Washington) D.C. United second game were obvious:

* Brian McBride breaking loose for two goals. * D.C. United being shaky on defense. * Outstanding goalkeeping by Juergen Sommer of the Crew. * Washington turning on the pressure late, but too late.

But there were other factors involving the Crew that were important:

* The play of persistent defensive midfielders Rob Smith and Todd Yeagley. * Brian West's speed on the right flank. * Thomas Dooley's leadership in the back, especially important since central defender Ricardo Iribarren will be out of Wednesday's decisive third game due to yellow card accumulation. * The effort of midfielder Andrew Williams, a non-factor the first game, and a 58th minute substitute the second match.

The Crew is hurting in the playmaking department due to Brian Maisonneuve being out with injury. Williams made some nifty plays when inserted in the lineup granted D.C. United was pressing forward at the time, rallying for two goals -- before he set up Robert Warzycha for the insurance goal assist in the 81st minute.

His role may be a big question in the decisive match in RFK Stadium, where Columbus is 0-8 in its history.

Roman Kosecki, the Chicago Fire's top scorer in the regular season, remains doubtful for MLS Cup '98 due to a left hamstring pull.

The veteran forward pulled up lame September 23 in his first game after being out three weeks with a similar injury. The Fire has been making do with a composite of Frank Klopas, Ante Razov and Josh Wolff up front.

Coach Bob Bradley has done a marvelous job on defense, led by former Czechoslovakian star Lubos Kubik. Chris Armas is the link at midfield, and Peter Nowak is an awesome attacking central midfielder who also plays defense. He is always running.

The Fire gets some criticism for its emphasis on defense, but the shots were even in the second-game win against Los Angeles at 10 apiece. Galaxy coach Octavio Zambrano was sporting in his congratulations, but his pre-game comments criticizing Chicago for not being more attack-minded were off-base.

With his array of veteran stars, he should be on the offense most of the time. The Fire, on the other hand, is an expansion team, without the experience or firepower of the Galaxy.

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

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