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Jerry's World

Major League Soccer players represented United States well in downing Chile.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Monday, February 22, 1999) -- Supporters of Major League Soccer lost little time in pointing out today that the American national team presented an all-MLS lineup in its 2-1 victory the previous day against Chile.

Former United States coach Steve Sampson has been critical of what he terms the low though improving level of play in MLS. "Until there is a league, equivalent to the Serie A (Italy), or the Premiership (England) or the Bundesliga (Germany), it will be difficult for us to compete at the highest levels," he said recently.

"Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but I think Steve's comments were a little harsh," McBride said after Sunday's triumph in which he had two assists.

Sampson spoke about players who were "enticed" to leave foreign clubs and join MLS in 1996. "The return came with a price," he said. " . . . Let's not be naive. Returning to the United States gave them a level of comfort that was impossible to enjoy (abroad). It made them instantly stars of (their MLS teams). From a promotional standpoint, the star factor was crucial for the success of the league. "For personal development and for preparation for World Cup qualifying, it was highly detrimental."

Sampson went on to say that some "of our domestic players (fell) into the trap of not making their trade as a soccer player a priority. Weight gain, injury and poor form was directly related to either lack of intensity in their training and/or the pursuit of off-the-field business interests."

His successor, Bruce Arena probably is in at least partial agreement here, repeatedly saying that national team players in Major League Soccer must be top players on their club. It's no secret that only wing midfielder Cobi Jones of the Los Angeles Galaxy and defender Eddie Pope of D.C. United consistently fulfilled that role in 1998.

Sampson didn't mention, however, that none of the "stars" was playing regularly in a first division league overseas at the time of their return.

MLS is a three-year-old league. "We have seen progress, with more teams playing tactically sound for 90 minutes and with greater organization in defense," Sampson said. " . . . However, league-wide, defensive pressure, technical proficiency and overall physical speed and power lack considerably when compared to the best leagues in the world."

No argument here. But is it reasonable to expect a German Bundesliga, an Italian Serie A, an England Premier League, a Spain First Division in three years? That's not likely for 10-15 years, if ever.

The bottom line, as shown against Chile, which made the second round of the 1998 World Cup: MLS is not hurting the development of a national team. Just the opposite, it is helping it.

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

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