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Jerry's World

MLS top scorers are showing little punch in playoff outings.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Thursday, November 4, 1999) -- Four of Major League Soccer's top forwards are without a goal in the playoffs. Three don't even have an assist, with the second games of the conference finals looming Sunday.

They include the top two regular-season scorers in MLS, a player closing in on the Mexican First Division points record, and a United States national team starter.

The grim figures:

* Jason Kreis, Dallas, four games, 0 points-0 assists-0 points. He was No. 1 in MLS with 18-15-51.

* Roy Lassiter, D.C. United, three games, 0-0-0. He was No. 2 with 18-11-47.

* Carlos Hermosillo, Los Angeles, three games, 0-0-0. He was 8-3-19 for 16 games.

* Brian McBride, Columbus, three games, 0-1-1. He was 5-10-20 for 25 games.

The offensive spotlight has shifted to other players -- Ariel Graziani in Dallas, Jaime Moreno in D.C. United, Cobi Jones in Los Angeles, Stern John in Columbus.

Kreis, playing a withdrawn forward position most of the time, rarely got free for a shot in the 2-1 opening-game conference finals loss to the Galaxy. Same with Hermosillo, a legend in Mexico whose favorite stamping ground is in the penalty box area, who was a non-factor against tight Burn marking.

Dallas concentrates on feeding Graziani in the target slot, and he got free a couple times, once burying an open shot. He is the reason the Burn is still alive in the tournament. Jones is a primary focus for the Galaxy, though he takes a pounding from defenders even out on the wing.

Playmaker Mauricio Cienfuegos was open for several shots in the game and could be a factor unless guarded more closely by a Dallas team that missed two injured defenders in the opener, and has three starters within a yellow card of suspension.

Moreno's revitalization this year has sparked D.C. United, but the Washington team's offense would be unstoppable if Lassiter was converting his chances around the goal mouth. McBride's role has been second-fiddle to John, both of whom like to play in the box -- McBride for headers, John for his strong turnaround moves.

On a Crew team that was badly outplayed in the 2-1 opening loss in Washington, he was primarily a withdrawn forward, showing skill as a passer -- while John tried unsuccessfully to outmaneuver central defenders Eddie Pope and Carey Talley.

Visiting teams are favored to win Sunday and complete two-game sweeps, advancing to a reprise of the inaugural MLS Cup 96, held in Foxborough, Mass., where it returns November 21 for MLS Cup 99.

The hometown Burn needs to rein in Cienfuegos, but defender Eric Dade and midfielder Sergi Daniv have to avoid yellow cards, as does Graziani. Otherwise, Dallas would be even more severely depleted in a possible third-game title match. Dallas also has to apply offensive pressure on the wings, particularly to occupy end-to-end Los Angeles outside back Ezra Hendrickson, a major part of the Galaxy attack whom the Burn needs to force to play more defense.

Columbus has problems both in the middle and the back. It benched veteran sweeper Thomas Dooley late in the season, but goalkeeper Mark Dougherty was left naked several times against D.C. United, and only spectacular work in the nets prevented a rout.

Lack of creativity in the midfield is a major problem, with Andy Williams -- a Jamaican World Cup player who started just 11 games -- providing a spark when inserted in the late stages of a game in which the Crew also missed injured playmaker Brian Maisonneuve. Williams' overall play has been found lacking by coach Tom Fitzgerald in the past, but maybe he'll roll the dice and start him Sunday in Columbus.

D.C. United has to be confident, having survived the first game without sparkplug defensive midfielder Richie Williams (red card suspension), and with central defender Eddie Pope showing signs of returning to his All-Star form of 1996-98.

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

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