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MLS bristles at media conflict-of-interest stories following Baicher trade.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Wednesday, August 18, 1999) -- Major League Soccer is not happy with hints of conflict-of-interest that have been appearing in the media following the trade last week of forward\midfielder Jeff Baicher of San Jose Clash to New England Revolution for midfielder Jair.

Both teams are owned by Kraft Sports Group.

Resentment has been expressed by some San Jose fans and players about the trade. "This is not a one-sided trade," MLS executive vice president Ivan Gazidis said today about the transaction in which the Clash traded a player who started 19 games and had three goals and nine assists -- and a career total of 20 goals, 15 assists with 82 starts -- for someone with four career goals and two assists in 24 starts the past two seasons. "Each team got something different. New England gets a proven performer who has experience and can score. San Jose gets a young player whose potential they know (director of soccer operations Renato Capobianco was an assistant coach with the Revolution last year), who has the potential to become an important player in MLS."

Baicher is 30, and Jair is 24. The Clash has burned in past transactions, giving up high-scoring Paul Bravo after the first season -- and he proceeded to become a mainstay with the division rival Colorado Rapids. They also went the age-for-youth route last month, sending forward Raul Diaz Arce to Tampa Bay for young Alejandro Sequeira -- and the veteran has five goals and four assists in six matches for the Mutiny.

Who knows what the early-season trade of injured Eric Wynalda to Miami will yield? He didn't perform up to expectations in San Jose but did average close to a point a match for three seasons.

Jair was slowed by two factors in New England -- first, the knee injury that sidelined him the latter part of the 1998 season; second, the heavy-running, physical style of play emphasized this year by coach Walter Zenga. He is a finesse central midfielder -- something missing from both New England and San Jose the past three years - though he has played out wide and has improved his defense.

The Clash thought it had resolved its central midfield problems with the mid-season acquisition of Mauricio Solis, and how the two will jell isn't known.

New England is under pressure to reward its fans with a playoff finish, and is battling Tampa Bay and Miami for the remaining two slots in the Eastern Conference. It also went with age in a blockbuster trade sending forward Ariel Graziani, 28, to the Dallas Burn for defensive midfield star Leonel Alvarez, 34. Both would appear to solve pressing problems. The slow Revolution defense has been in shambles, while the Burn is struggling for offense with the injury to forward Dante Washington.

Dallas also feels a need to make a mark in the Western Conference playoffs and shed its reputation as a .500 team not considered to be title material. Gazidis cautioned about expecting results from the start with newly acquired foreigners such as Graziani. a native of Ecuador.

"It's a different style of soccer here . . . more physical . . . it's hot . . . there's a lot of long-distance travel," he said, adding he was confident the former Mexico First Division mainstay will score regularly in MLS.

The other pre-deadline trade was nondescript, Daniel Hernandez going from Los Angeles to Tampa Bay for Jorge Salcedo. Hernandez is in his second season in MLS and has played offensive and defensive midfield. Salcedo, who was with the Galaxy in 1996, is in his fourth year and primarily is a defensive midfielder.

"It's a trade involving one player, you know with certainty what you're getting, for another player with the potential for improvement -- happens in a lot of trades," Gazidis said.

Dual ownership in MLS is a fact of life, and the league said that plays no part in trades - but it may have problems avoiding that perception. The Hunt Family owns Columbus Crew and Kansas City Wizards, and Philip Anschutz does it and Kraft one better -- owning Chicago Fire, Colorado Rapids and Los Angeles Galaxy.

The Revolution-Clash trade was only the third involving mutual teams. The others were minor - earlier this year Zak Ibsen was sent by Chicago to Los Angeles for a second round 2001 college draft pick, and late in 1997, Columbus dispatched Pete Marino to Kansas City for Frank Klopas, who never played for the Crew but instead went to Chicago.

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

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