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Moore's defection to Everton is a bitter pill for MLS on eve of Cup.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Tuesday, November 16, 1999) -- Joe-Max Moore's switch to the England Premier League isn't exactly the news Major League Soccer wants to hear on the eve of MLS Cup '99. Though MLS will survive the loss, and it probably doesn't portend a mass exodus of top United States stars overseas, the departure still stings.

The reasons, both spoken and unspoken, are plentiful:

  • A desire to play in one of the top four professional leagues in the world.
  • Financial.
  • A desire to be a more compelling presence on the U.S. National team.
  • Discouragement with the floundering New England Revolution.

MLS blew the chance for any significant transfer fee by failing to re-sign him after the 1998 season.

Let's examine the factors, some of them intertwined. There probably are just two MLS teams -- 1999 finalists D.C. United and the Los Angeles Galaxy -- who would be competitive in the lower echelon of the England Premier League, and probably not for an entire season. Moore's new team, Everton, is in the middle of the table, 10th place with a 5-5-4 record and 23 goals.

He presumably has assurance he will be given a fair chance at playing time. It makes little sense, other than for money, for a veteran player to leave MLS and sit on the bench overseas. Young players can benefit for awhile from the stronger training, but not a 28-year-old in his prime years. Million-dollar forwards and midfielders are not uncommon as substitutes in England, Spain, Italy and Germany.

Moore is reported to have agreed to a $2 million contract for three-plus years -- roughly $600,000 annually. Major League Soccer was willing to bump him from an estimated $200,000 to the maximum $250,000, plus a signing bonus.

He has been a part of the national team since 1992, on World Cup teams in 1994 and 1998 (starting twice in France 98), has 20 goals in 78 internationals, third in U.S. history -- behind Eric Wynalda (32) and retired Bruce Murray (21). But he hasn't been embraced in recent years as a vital component.

Coaches have settled on others for his best positions -- Claudio Reyna justifiably in central midfield and A-B-J (Anybody But Joe) in the withdrawn or center forward slots. Instead, he frequently has come off the bench, or started at outside wing, where he has not been effective. He even started a World Cup match at defensive midfield.

He is skillful, has a good shot (particularly awesome are his free kicks), and hustles on defense. He paired well at forward with Wynalda in the mid-1990s, doing most of the grunt work up front while his teammate got the goals.

New England? Moore is too classy an act to publicly criticize this inept franchise, but let's do it for him. He is the 15th-best career scorer in MLS, with 100 points on 37 goals, 26 assists in 77 games despite the absence of creative midfield service much of the last three years. He had 15 goals last season, tied for fourth in MLS.

No one broke in with more flare. Following two starring seasons in the German Second Division, he arrived in MLS the second half of 1996, scoring 11 goals in 14 games -- helped greatly by playmaker Alberto Naveda. He was slowed by injuries the next two years, but still managed 15 assists in 21 matches in 1998.

The Revolution let Naveda go after the 1997 season -- and never really filled his playmaking position. They traded Oscar Pareja during 1998, and he proceeded to help Dallas Burn to a strong second-place finish in the Western Conference this season.

Injuries decimated the New England midfield early in 1999, and the two most skilled playmakers -- Edwin Gorter and Jair -- wound up being traded during the season.

He'll face tougher marking in England, no doubt. He'll get better service from midfield, no doubt. And if he can convert enough chances, maybe Bruce Arena when he pencils in his national team lineup will say, "Kasey Keller . . . Chris Armas . . . Claudio Reyna . . . Joe-Max Moore . . . and how do we supplement this nucleus?"

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

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