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Long- and short-term answers are sought in signing of Matthaeus, Trembley.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Tuesday, August 17, 1999) -- Major League Soccer announced two signings today designed to improve its future -- one short-term, one long-term.

* Lothar Matthaeus, who has appeared in five World Cups for Germany and was named Bundesliga Player of the Year last fall, will play for the New York/New Jersey MetroStars next year.

* Seth Trembley, 17, a starting defender on the World Cup-bound United States under-17 team, was signed to a Project 40 development contract and assigned to the Colorado Rapids.

"Helping to build soccer in America and a successful team in New York is a huge challenge for Lothar, and he relishes it," MLS executive vice president Ivan Gazidis said of Matthaeus, by far the biggest name ever attracted by Major League Soccer. The press conference was anti-climatic, however, since word of his signing has been in the media for several months.

MLS officials obviously are hoping the announcement will take some of the sting off the dismal showing this year by the MetroStars, who have the worst record at 5-17, including just two regulation-time victories.

At one time an attacking midfielder, Matthaeus is now a sweeper who occasionally ventures to defensive midfield. He will observe his 39th birthday March 21.

MetroStars general manager Charlie Stillitano, under heavy fire for his team's poor performance since the start of MLS in 1996, said he will be available in January, at the start of pre-season drills, and that he didn't expect him to be a member of the German national team during early-summer play in the 2000 European Championship. He also hinted that Matthaeus might be available for the 2001 season in Major League Soccer as well.

"He is still a great player, and we are delighted to have him," Stillitano said. "He is very special." He acknowledged that "more than Lothar" is needed to turn the franchise around.

Matthaeus, a tenacious and durable player known for his leadership skills, is completing his career with Bayern Munich this year.

Trembley's signing represents MLS's attempt to get involved with high-school age players who are interested in turning professional, rather than going to college to further their soccer careers. He is 17, as is midfielder DaMarcus Beasley, signed in March when he was 16, and recently was assigned to the Los Angeles Galaxy in Project-40.

Landon Donovan, the high-scoring 17-year-old forward, signed with Bayer Leverkusen (Germany). At least a half-dozen other players on Coach John Ellinger's team are considering turning professional - some are being courted overseas -- but they are not expected to do anything until after the under-17 World Cup in New Zealand, which begins November 10. They include defender Nelson Akwari, midfielder Kyle Beckerman, forward Jordan Cila, goalkeeper Devin Countess, and midfielders Ken Cutler and Bryan Jackson.

MLS in the past has concentrated on college undergraduates -- with the goal eventually of moving to the high school arena. It is now there, as is the United States Soccer Federation, at least partially, with its year-long residency camp for the under-17s, primarily high school preps who moved to the Bollettieri Academy in Bradenton, Fla., for school and intensive soccer training.

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

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