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Jerry's World

Acquisition of Graziani best MLS move since Etcheverry, Valderrama.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Friday, July 30, 1999) -- Major League Soccer is justifiably exuberant about its signing of forward Ariel Graziani, 28, a top goal-scorer from Ecuador, who may be the best acquisition since the dynamic midfield duo of Marco Etcheverry and Carlos Valderrama in 1996.

Acquired for a transfer fee of slightly less than $2 million -- beating the former MLS mark of $1.4 million for Etcheverry -- he has been a top producer at Mexican teams Morelia and Vera Cruz after starring for home club Emelec. But is his new team, the New England Revolution, equally jubilant? Everyone seems in line now, but the undercurrent earlier from coach Walter Zenga was that he preferred a defender, the very capable Joseph Addo, a Ghana national team player who had been working out with the Revolution for a couple weeks.

There is little doubt that his attempt to build a defense-first lineup has faltered, if not collapsed in recent weeks. New England doesn't have ball-winners or ball-possession types in the midfield. And the defense, never fully recovered from losing Francis Okaroh and Alexi Lalas after the 1997 season, is slow and un-athletic. Furthermore, the Revolution dumped midfielder Edwin Gorter in mid-season. He filled in more than adequately as a sweeper during the latter part of the 1998 season, and has become captain and the main man in the central defense of the Miami Fusion in recent weeks.

In fact, the Fusion has won four straight games and now is tied with New England for third place in the Eastern Conference. With the four international slots filled at the Revolution, Addo is now reported eyeing the Tampa Bay Mutiny, which may waive international forward Jefferson Gottardi, out with an injury.

The signing of central defender Lothar Matthaus is a boon to MLS -- but it's not going to help the New York/New Jersey MetroStars this year. He arrives next season, with time expected out in June for the 2000 European Championship, if Germany qualifies.

He is 38 years, but was overwhelmingly voted Footballer of the Year by Bundesliga media after the just-completed season. He is an amazing competitor, though how he'll react to playing in a league several notches below the top German league is not known. The trend in MLS signings of overseas players has been tilted more toward young players this year, but a five-time participant in the World Cup speaks for itself.

Goalkeepers shouldn't get injured.

  • Mark Dodd (Dallas) was ailing in pre-season with a knee injury, second-year Matt Jordan stepped in and has been outstanding with a 0.90 goals-against average. The veteran Dodd, an All-Star, is OK, but can't crack the lineup.
  • Juergen Sommer (Columbus) injured his knee before the pre-season, and only now is returning to action, playing in minor league games. His replacement, Mark Dougherty, has been brilliant in the net, with 1.08 goals-against mark.
  • And with Jeff Cassar (Miami) continuing to have knee problems, journeyman Jeff Lagerwey has stepped in for the Fusion with a series of spectacular performances the past month.

Thomas Dooley, 38, says he's interested in playing another season for Columbus. He has done well in the central defense in 1999, after first indicating this was his final year.

No substitute has been more productive this year than Columbus forward Jeff Cunningham, who has seven goals, four assists in just 914 minutes, including nine starts.

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

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