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Jerry’s World

MLS scores big with Albright signing.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Saturday, July 17, 1999) -- Major League Soccer's most significant action of 1999 may have occurred this week with the signing of Virginia star forward Chris Albright.

It represents the United States league's attempt to be competitive with international courting of top American stars from the under-17, under-20 and college ranks.

MLS already had lost Landon Donovan, the wunderkind 17-year-old forward to Germany, and is faced with the prospect of losing others to bigger money and better quality of play. Hence, the signing of Albright, about to enter his junior year at Virginia.

But there will be controversy about his assignment to D.C. United. The two-fold message from the Albright signing:

  • Major League Soccer is trying to get its share of top young stars, realizing it won't get all of them.
  • Leading U.S. players with interest from overseas have plenty of juice in their dealings with MLS.

D.C. United, the dominant team in MLS with two championships and one runnerup finish, now will have gotten two straight college superstar allocations. It received Ben Olsen in 1998, with the Cavalier midfielder saying he would come out early if he got to play for his former college coach, Bruce Arena, at D.C. United.

Albright gave MLS two choices -- D.C. United and the Los Angeles Galaxy. It was either that or, presumably, he was going to Europe. He gets the standard $24,000-a-year Project 40 development contract with MLS, plus an unannounced amount for a lucrative endorsement deal with Nike.

Does that mean future UCLA superstars get to pick Los Angeles? Southern Methodist stars choose Dallas? Indiana stars select Chicago? St. John's stars, New York/New Jersey. Connecticut stars, New England? What about Kansas City? Colorado?

If the international interest is there, and MLS is similarly impressed, that appears to be the trend, and there is little that MLS can do about it. But MLS has to be concerned about inequities in its parity-driven league if all the players want D.C. United or the Galaxy or the Chicago Fire.

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

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