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Jerry's World

High rate of shootouts is simply a byproduct of less goal scoring.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Tuesday, April 20, 1999) -- Major League Soccer has more problems than just the wave of shootouts - now at 15 of 27 matches, a 55.6 percent clip.

The newest dilemma: lack of scoring.

The two are related, since the fewer the goals scored, the better the chance of a draw in regulation time. Average goals-per-game is 2.60 following a weekend in which there were just 10 goals in six matches.

This contrasts with the three-year MLS average of 3.36 goals per game, including a record 3.56 last season.

A brief question and answer:

Q: Are the defenses better?
A: Some say yes, but others feel the scoring chances are as plentiful as before, but that the finishing is atrocious.

Q: Is it too early for offenses to jell?
A: Perhaps, but that's what MLS officials used to say about inexperienced defenses in early-season games.

Q: Is more talent needed on offense?
A: That's where the bulk of the international firepower is on most teams, at the two forward slots and attacking midfield.

Commissioner Douglas R. Logan expressed concern about the decline in scoring. "If it continues, we will put this under the microscope," he said today. "We're tracking this, but it's still early in the season."

More teams appear defensive-oriented this year, a reversal from the offense-first philosophy frequently followed in 1996-98. Dallas Burn attacking midfielder Jason Kreis acknowledged that the success enjoyed by Chicago Fire in winning MLS last year may have been a "starting point" for many teams.

The Fire was near impregnable on defense, and relied heavily on counterattacks for offense.

They are more wide-open on attack this year, largely because midfield maestro Peter Nowak is healthy. He missed more than two months last year due to a knee injury.

New England has gone from being one of the worst teams yielding goals to one of the best, under the leadership of Italian goalkeeper Walter Zenga, who in addition to serving as coach has helped keep scoring down himself with spectacular efforts in the net.

Bora Milutinovic, the new coach of the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, is a stickler for defense, and his team has reflected that, giving up just four goals in four matches.

Colorado, under Glenn Myernick, was deluged with goals the first couple months of 1998. He made formation and personnel changes, and the Rapids' goals-against dropped considerably. The trend has continued this season. Dallas Burn, who rarely have had a full attacking complement the past two years due to injuries, have made their living on defense.

"Just because we play good defense doesn't mean we can't attack . . . and we have every intention of getting better (later in the season)," Burn coach Dave Dir said.

The signing announced today of Colombian forward John Jairo Trellez, 30, should make the Burn more potent on offense. "The offenses will come together later in the season," said Kreis, who has five goals in five matches.

Logan also pointed to problems encountered by last year's record-setting MLS offensive team, the Los Angeles Galaxy (three goals in five games), and the Kansas City Wizards, Western Conference scoring leaders in 1996 and 1997 (two goals in five 98 matches).

The scoring that has occurred in MLS has been helped by the tailenders. Kansas City, which is winless, has been stung with 10 goals. Tampa Bay, also winless, has given up 11 goals. The Miami Fusion, with just two shootout triumphs, has yielded 12 goals.

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

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