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D.C. United serves as model for success in building MLS dynasty.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Monday, November 22, 1999) -- D.C. United remains the model for soccer in the United States. The franchise achieved dynasty status with a 2-0 win against the Los Angeles Galaxy, its third title along with one runnerup finish in four-year-old Major League Soccer.

We agree with former D.C. United coach Bruce Arena's comments reported by Michael Wilbon in The Washington Post:

"Dynasties equate to quality, not weakness. Dynasties are great. The greatest thing it does, perhaps, is make everybody else in the league get better."

We also agree with complaints periodically from Washington that Major League Soccer rules are stacked against successful teams in that they are forced to increase player pay to reward winning, and then have problems with salary cap limits - but so what? A similar situation exists in the National Football League, and the popularity of the sport hasn't suffered.

D.C. United succeeds because of a superior organization -- led by president Kevin Payne -- and because it has managed to keep its core players through the years: forward Jaime Moreno, midfielders Marco Etcheverry and Richie Williams, and defenders Jeff Agoos and Eddie Pope.

It lost forward Raul Diaz Arce after two years, midfielders John Harkes and Tony Sanneh after three, and figures to be without defender Diego Sonora and forward Roy Lassiter next year. They are all good players, but none essential -- though D.C. United would have been awesome with Sanneh in the lineup this past year.

Carey Talley started ahead of Sonora in the championship game, and Chris Albright -- if he's half as good as the hype that has surrounded him -- should do OK at forward. Don't forget that D.C. United went to New England and Los Angeles with half its starters out and easily won during the regular season. There is young talent waiting for a chance.

The status of Ben Olsen could be key. He is under long-term contract to MLS, but there has to be considerable foreign interest in the hustling, versatile, scrappy, developing wing midfielder, who is just 22.

MLS is interested in sweetening his pact, and would be well-advised to do so. He contributes more than many higher-paid national team veterans. Olsen is the next emerging American star, a likely national team starter in the 2002 World Cup.

Given his progression this year, he is expected to have a breakout season in 2000 - and he is not a player Major League Soccer, or D.C. United, want to lose.

Some thoughts on the championship game:

* For the second time in four years, MLS had a title match on less-than-standard-size Foxboro Stadium. The measurements were 106 yards by 68 yards, shortened annually from 115-by-70 in August to accommodate re-insertment of football seating for the New England Patriots. World soccer governing body FIFA prefers fields to be 115-by-75.

Another more glaring problem was the condition of the field, which was bumpy and thread-bare following a half-season of football action. Players on both sides correctly called the playing surface a disgrace.

* Unsung heroes were the defensive midfielders who expertly marked superstar attacking midfielders, Williams (against Mauricio Cienfuegos of the Galaxy) and Danny Pena (against Etcheverry).

* Carlos Llamosa was out much of the season with knee injuries, and came up hobbling against Sunday, but he was a bulwark in the D.C. United central defense for 73 minutes before limping off.

* The loss of star Galaxy central defender Robin Fraser with a broken collarbone seven minutes into the game had ramifications 12 minutes later, when sub Steve Jolley and veteran Paul Caligiuri failed to clear balls after a corner kick, giving Moreno an easy goal.

* Kevin Hartman had a couple world-class saves, but his ill-advised dribbling of the ball -- under modest pressure by Lassiter -- led directly to D.C. United's second goal and belongs in the MLS all-time Horror Show of Gaffes.

* The Galaxy is not that far from D.C. United, and had bad luck on corner kicks, not only on defense, but on offense, in one sequence hitting the post and then Williams made a save to prevent an own goal.

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

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