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Jerry's World

Depressing MetroStars put a damper on a day of great soccer news.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Thursday, August 12, 1999) -- The contrast Wednesday was stunning.

About 2,500-3,000 fans in Giants Stadium for a Major League Soccer match. The New York\New Jersey MetroStars losing again, practically eliminated from playoff consideration, dropping to 5-16 with their sixth straight loss. The ridiculed franchise taking another shot on the chin.

But elsewhere in soccer, big news, exciting news, favorable news.

The highlights:

* The poster boys of minor league soccer, host Rochester (N.Y.) Rhinos ousted the Dallas Burn, 2-1, in the second overtime of the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals before 10,730 screaming fans in Frontier Field.

* The Columbus Crew, which finally appears to be on track, upset the Los Angeles Galaxy, 3-1, in Fullerton, Calif., increasing its chances of playing host to the U.S. Open Cup final, September 14.

Rochester winning is good news for soccer. This is a community that backs second division professional soccer better than some MLS teams support first division competition, and it deserves to be in Major League Soccer when and if it gets a satisfactory soccer-only stadium.

The win was no fluke, following a 1-0 conquest of MLS champion Chicago Fire in the third round.

That didn't stop the gripes from the losing Burn. "When they play on a real field, they're going to get their butts beat," forward Jason Kreis said, referring to the narrow dimensions and short length of the field. MLS will have two teams in the September 1 semifinal doubleheader in Virginia Beach, Va., as will the A-League, but the pairings will not be announced until a blind draw is held early next week.

Some controversy has evolved about the Tampa Bay-Colorado quarterfinal Friday due to the fact that the game also is an MLS match, played under MLS rules -- with recently acquired players forward Raul Diaz Arce and defender Manny Lagos and newly signed foreign defender Joe Addo starting for the Mutiny and defender Ritchie Kotschau listed as a reserve.

A question: Will they be allowed to play in the semifinals if Tampa Bay wins? Diaz Arce served earlier this year with San Jose Clash, who were not in the U.S. Open Cup. Lagos and Kotschau played for Chicago Fire in U.S. Open Cup matches. Addo just joined Major League Soccer this week.

* Claudio Reyna scored a goal, giving him four in three games, to lead Glasgow (Scotland) Rangers to a 2-0 win against Parma (Italy) in a key qualifying match for European Champions League. If the team can hold onto this goal-differential edge in the return match in two weeks in Italy, it advances into the lucrative 32-team competition, worth millions of dollars to participating clubs.

Reyna has been little short of sensational with the famed Rangers, fully justifying U.S. coach Bruce Arena's decision to leave him off the Confederations Cup roster so as to give him more training in Scotland. He is displaying superb playmaking talents -- and an ability to score goals.

* Middle America meets the U.S. women's soccer team. Largely ignored during the highly successful FIFA Women's World Cup, the Midwest gets it shot at the world champion American women in October. Already, Columbus (Ohio) is sold out to 23,000 capacity for a doubleheader October 3.

Signed up Wednesday were two other locations to complete the U.S. Women's Cup - October 7 in Kansas City (Mo.), October 10 in Louisville (Ky.). Kansas City Wizards investor-operator Lamar Hunt says Arrowhead Stadium will open its two lower decks, with a capacity of 45,476.

The Wizards are the lowest-drawing team in Major League Soccer, averaging 7,757 fans -- and were poor at the gate even with an offensive-minded, winning team in 1996 and 1997. The site in Louisville, better known for basketball and horse-racing, will be the new 42,000-seat University of Louisville (Papa John's Cardinal) stadium.

Teams to face the United States have not been announced.

* And the women made news off the field, with announcement that five team stars -- Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Michelle Akers, Kristine Lilly and Briana Scurry -- will appear on boxes of Wheaties. At the same time, the same women, along with the rest of the team, will be on boxes of Quaker Oats Golden Goals, a new corn-and-oat cereal shaped like soccer balls.

Good news across the country in soccer. But the scene in Giants Stadium was dismal. Injuries have depleted the MetroStars' roster. The foreign players arrived too late to make a difference. The domestic players haven't produced. Nor has the front office. Nor the coach.

Major League Soccer can't survive until it has respectability in New York. Correcting this situation has to be the first priority of new commissioner Don Garber.

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

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