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Jerry's World

Dallas provides pleasant surprise for MLS with better play, improved attendance.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Wednesday, May 19, 1999) -- It's the most-overlooked story in Major League Soccer this season.

It doesn't involve record-low scoring of 2.48 goals a game, stagnant overall attendance at 14,292, and record-pace shootouts, 44 percent of all games played.

It is not the new stadium at Columbus, nor the remarkable 5-2 record posted by Crew on the road the first seven games.

It is not the disintegration of the D.C. United defense.

It is not the spectacular goalkeeping of Walter Zenga at New England.

It is not the continued injury problems of Tab Ramos with the New York/New Jersey MetroStars.

It is not the revival of the Tampa Bay Mutiny with Carlos Valderrama.

It is not the paucity of talent with the Miami Fusion.

It is not the continuing growth of defensive midfielder Chris Armas in Chicago.

It is not the arrival of the Colorado Rapids as one of the elite teams.

It is not the goal-scoring drought undergone by the Los Angeles Galaxy.

It is not the failure to win in regulation by the San Jose Clash.

It is not that Kansas City has been forced to use three other goalies due to the pre-season knee injury suffered by Tony Meola.

Unnoticed has been the positive performance of the Dallas Burn, both on the field and off.

This is a .500 franchise that has been hampered throughout its existence by various problems, including a series of injuries, and not much was expected this year. But the Burn has surprised the experts, with a 5-4 record (13 points), good for second place in the strong Western Conference. They haven't lost in regulation time; the four setbacks all came via shootouts.

One thing has stayed the same: injuries. On the bench at the start of the San Jose game last Saturday: goalkeeper Mark Dodd, midfielder Chad Deering, and forwards Dante Washington and newly-acquired John Jairo Trellez from Colombia -- though Deering and Washington played as substitutes.

Matt Jordan, who played just 45 minutes last year, has been brilliant in goal all season -- negating the knee problem suffered by the veteran Dodd. The unsung Oscar Pareja has done well as a playmaker in central midfield. Jason Kreis is living up to his rookie season form, with seven goals and two assists from the attacking midfield role.

Defensive midfielder Leonel Alvarez, the MLS career leader in yellow caution cards despite missing the 1997 season, has just one this spring. The defense of Jorge Rodriguez, Eric Dade, Richard Farrer, and Brandon Pollard has been solid, with Dallas allowing an MLS-low five goals.

Even the coach, David Dir, is earning kudos. He is the only four-year coach with his original team.

Last week, he liked the practice-field efforts of rookie forward Bobby Rhine. And in a surprise, he started him against the Clash. The result: two goals in a 2-1 win.

Even more significant for Dallas has been the Cotton Bowl attendance. The average crowd for five games is 13,994, a 28 percent increase from last year, and 45 percent higher than in 1997.

Season ticket sales are not remarkable; where the push has come from the Dallas front office is in group sales. MLS attendance is floundering in Los Angeles, New England, and Miami -- but the Burn is doing more than its share to reverse the downward trend.

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

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