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A few suggestions for MLS and its new commissioner Don Garber.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Monday, August 30, 1999) -- Major League Soccer began as an enterprise that to a large extent took soccer fans for granted and figured it needed to appeal to a wider audience. It was right on the need to bring in more than the core constituency. But it was wrong to do things to alienate the foundation that is needed for any new league to establish itself and then grow.

Here are some suggestions for new commissioner Don Garber:

  • Eliminate the shootout. It angers purists because it is a gimmick, and it is not fair to teams that earn a draw in 90 minutes of regulation time and lose in the shootout, getting no credit in the standings.
  • Go to a Golden Goal 30-minute overtime for the playoffs, starting this year, not just for the final. ESPN and ESPN2 have missed the starts of enough MLS games due to overruns in other broadcasts; this could be compensation.
  • Return control of the game clock to the referee, who will decide how much injury time is left (and so inform the fans through a sideline official as FIFA-controlled games now do), and give him leeway not to end a match during an offensive surge. There is no such option now.
  • No weeknight games unless they are to be shown on nationwide television. Fans are not attending matches except on weekends. Teams lose considerable money with small crowds when stadium rentals are taken into consideration.
  • Clean house with the underachieving New York\New Jersey MetroStars.
  • Move the Kansas City Wizards franchise to Houston. There simply isn't the fan base there to support a team. Owner Lamar Hunt doesn't want to move, nor build a reasonably sized 25,000-seat stadium similar to one already built in Columbus.
  • Increase the salary cap more than five percent annually.
  • More emphasis on new stadiums, particularly in Los Angeles and Colorado.
  • Clean house with the underachieving New England Revolution.
  • Improve marketing on the local level. There have been success stories in MLS in attendance this year, but they've been drowned out by the disasters in Los Angeles, New York\New Jersey and Miami.
  • Establish a strong working relationship with the United States Soccer Federation everything, particularly on the development of young players, a new women's professional league, and on dealings with the NCAA.
  • Get goalkeeper Jorge Campos back in Major League Soccer.
  • Be very careful about being a world soccer governing body FIFA guinea pig with two referees next season. What happens when the two disagree on a single call? A lot of dropped balls -- and time wasted off the clock. And how are referees supposed to handle being the single official one week, and being part of a two-man setup the next week, as is proposed during the trial period in 2000?
  • It's fine to stand on a soapbox and say ethnicity should have no role in international allocations. But Hispanic fans are not coming to games in the numbers they did in the first season, 1996, and they are key to the success of MLS. And the number of Hispanic players in MLS, proportionally, has declined the past three years.
  • Establish a full-court press in South Florida to see if soccer will fly there, and where. Changing the name from Miami Fusion to South Florida Fusion is one obvious start but not the remedy. The team is not in Miami, it is in Fort Lauderdale -- because negotiations to use the Orange Bowl in Miami broke down two years ago. Is Lockhart Stadium the right place?
  • The agreement with Tahuici Academy in Bolivia regarding eventual placement of talented young players in MLS is to be applauded, and expanded, and coaches down the road should not be shy about playing these teenagers rather than 30-year-old journeyman veterans. Soccer by its nature doesn't produce many goals, but it needs flair -- and it requires players who can maintain possession of the ball while dribbling and pass it successfully to a teammate.
  • Encourage U.S. Soccer not to approve so many Mexican and Central American club matches, because there is a finite audience for soccer in this country -- and these games drain people from MLS competition, particularly in Dallas and Los Angeles. Or link them with MLS games.
  • Reduce the length of the season. MLS, in decreasing the number of weeknight games, has an interminable regular season stretching from March 20 to October 10. Maybe 32 games is too many; what about 28?
  • More consistency is needed on television. Thursday Night Soccer for ESPN or ESPN2? Aside from baseball, there's not much live television weeknights during the summer. And a consistent late-afternoon time Saturdays for ABC and\or ESPN\ESPN2 would be nice.

Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at

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