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Jerry's World

Itís time for U.S. fans to stand up and show support of national team.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Tuesday, March 2, 1999) -- It's about time soccer fans in the United States showed their true colors and supported the national team.

Instead of just talking about it.

Most of the crowd at the U.S. Cup games in California -- March 11 against Guatemala in Los Angeles, March 13 in San Diego against Mexico -- likely will be cheering against the Americans. Road games in one's home country.

Hispanic fans show up by the thousands to cheer for the Latin teams. But where are the U.S. supporters? They either don't show, or maybe there aren't that many fans in the first place. If so, soccer here is in big trouble.

It's easy afterwards to rail against the Hispanic crowds supporting their teams against the United States. But there's an easy answer: U.S. fans should buy tickets and attend as well.

Every game can't be in a controlled environment like Portland, Ore., with ticket forms mailed to the U.S. Soccer supporters as was done for the Costa Rica qualifier in 1997. U.S. soccer fans are great complainers -- from the comfort of their computers or living rooms.

But if there is real soccer interest in this nation, it's time to show it:

1. Attend national team games. And when there, make some noise. Sing. It's called atmosphere.
2. Attend Major League Soccer games. Bigger crowds means more recognition in the media.
3. Otherwise, watch Nos. 1 and 2 on television. Maybe you will be counted on the Nielsens. Look at the coverage hockey gets with a 1.4 rating.

And let's not be criticizing Hispanic fans. Without their support, Major League Soccer doesn't succeed. It's that simple. Already, there has been a drop in MLS attendance among Hispanics that does not bode well for the future of first division soccer in the United States.

* The soccer media is raging about the dismissal of Sunil Gulati as Major League Soccer deputy commissioner, with many saying it was a power play by commissioner Douglas Logan, culminating a frayed relationship between the two men.

Maybe so. It's difficult for two co-No. 1s -- Logan in charge of off-the-field, Gulati in charge of on-the-field, which is what they in essence were -- to exist for too long a time. But we would like to know about the reasons, other than the botched re-signing of midfielder Tab Ramos to a maximum $250,000 contract without the consent of the salary cap-plagued, under-achieving New York/New Jersey MetroStars.

That was a serious matter, deserving disciplinary action, but it doesn't by itself warrant dismissal. What else has occurred? So far, there's been no comment -- obviously on the advice of legal counsel -- other than the bare bones announcement of the action by MLS.

At stake, presumably, is a severance package -- and possibly Gulati's future relationship with MLS. He is managing director of Project 2010, a U.S. Soccer program aimed at identifying and developing young talent and making the United States a contender for the 2010 World Cup. A close working arrangement with Major League Soccer has to be an important element.

* Guess where Eric Wynalda was playing at Leon (Mexico) before injuring his ankle? Left midfield.

"The coach (Victor Manuel Vucetich) . . . approached me about playing midfield and told me it was better for the team right now," he told the San Jose Mercury News. "I'm fine with that."

Former U.S. coach Steve Sampson would have been happy with that attitude. He wanted to move Wynalda there before the World Cup, but the veteran striker balked -- and went back in the mix at forward, contributing nothing in France.

Guess where John Harkes has been playing with Nottingham Forest (England)? Outside defensive back.

Sampson wanted him to take a shot at the position, but pulled back when the longtime midfielder and team captain expressed reluctance for the shift. Harkes later was dropped from the team for what the coach termed was a bad attitude.

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

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