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Jerry's World

Valderrama deserves better than shabby treatment in Miami.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Thursday, April 22, 1999) -- The most well-known player in Major League Soccer has been treated shabbily in recent days.

Yes, he does not play defense. Yes, he does not run much. Yes, he can be arrogant and petulant.

Yes, he is 37 years-old. So what!

This is Carlos Valderrama, and he is a genius at setting up goals. His passes to teammates are magical. He brings beauty to the sport. He is one of the few players in MLS worth the price of admission by himself. But he doesn't fit into Miami Fusion coach Ivo Wortmann's plans, and he has benched him and wants to trade him.

"We want to get value for value," Wortman said -- after devaluing him by saying he doesn't play defense, doesn't run enough, and doesn't involve other teammates enough.

Talk about pumping a product for sale!

Commissioner Douglas R. Logan, aghast at this three-time World Cup star from Colombia not playing, is pushing hard for a trade -- or anything -- to get him back on the field.

Carlos Valderrama isn't playing any differently than he did in 1996 when he was named MVP in Major League Soccer. In fact, some observers thought he played his best MLS soccer in the second half of 1998, after a mid-season practice-field dispute with Wortmann after he took over the Fusion reins. And his play the first few weeks for the Miami Fusion was near the same level.

Teams can develop any style of play they want -- but it's been known from Day One that Valderrama is not a run-run-run type of player as is apparently envisioned by the Fusion coach. Nor is he a defensive midfielder.

Why wasn't something done in the offseason, rather than after a month of the regular season where the main Miami problems have been lack of scoring from the forwards, and an abysmal defense - not the play of Valderrama? Furthermore, aren't good coaches supposed to fit their offense and defense around the available talent, rather than vice-versa? How would Bruce Arena have handled this situation?

Isn't that what the Miami Heat's Pat Riley does with his no-holds-barred defensive philosophy carried over from his days with the New York Knicks -- but radically different than his all-out offensive "Showtime" philosophy with the Los Angeles Lakers?

Valderrama needs to be in a situation with a good defensive midfielder to handle the ball-winning chores. Notice how relatively ineffective Mauricio Cienfuegos has been with Los Angeles since the departure of Chris Armas to Chicago. D.C. United, similarly, has not been as dynamic on offense since the injury to Richie Williams.

Wortmann is correct that the other midfielders have been too deferential to Valderrama and have not worked harder to develop scoring thrusts from the wings. But does that mean the playmaker deluxe has to be jettisoned? Major League Soccer sent him to Miami after two successful years in Tampa Bay because of the large Colombian population in Dade County and the environs.

It already is hurting in attendance from locating the Fusion in Fort Lauderdale rather than Miami after negotiations with the Orange Bowl broke down.

Doug Logan is to be commended for showing concern about the fate of Valderrama.

Valderrama is one of the jewels of MLS. Others worth the price of admission:

Chicago Fire - midfielder Peter Nowak, midfielder Chris Armas, defender Lubos Kubik.
San Jose Clash - forward Ronald Cerritos, defender Mauricio Wright.
D.C. United - midfielder Marco Etcheverry.
Columbus Crew - forward Stern John.
New York/New Jersey MetroStars - midfielder Ken Myers.
New England Revolution - goalkeeper Walter Zenga.

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

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