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Surging MetroStars visit New England Saturday, first of two ESPN games.

(Friday, July 11, 2000) -- Following a 7-25 record in 1999 with a Major League Soccer all-time season low 15 points, the MetroStars could only improve on last year's dismal campaign. However, few expected the Metros to jump from worst to first in less than a year.

The MetroStars, of course, can thank the league which showered the club with an embarrassment of riches following four years of failure. Location in the New York area, league officials think, requires the team be an example of success, not one with the worst cumulative record in MLS’ first four years.

Entering tomorrow’s nationally televised match at the New England Revolution with an 8-1-2 mark in their last 11 games, the MetroStars are the hottest team in MLS. The former doormats are now alone in first place in the Eastern Division with an 11-7-2 record (35 points), nine points of the second-place, but fading Revs.

Ironically, German superstar defender Lothar Matthaeus, paid a ransom to be the centerpiece of the franchise, has missed half of the team’s games for a variety of reasons and likely will be sent packing by next week. The team has done better without him.

So how have the MetroStars turned their fortunes around in a short amount of time?

Management and coaching: The club brought in 1999 MLS "Executive of the Year" Nick Sakiewicz from Tampa Bay and former Los Angeles coach Octavio Zambrano to run the show. The two have developed an offensive-minded team that is focused on winning a championship. Zambrano has many players who have previously played for him at all levels -- Steve Jolley, Mark Semioli, Steve Shak, Clint Mathis, Daniel Hernandez and Orlando Perez to name a few -- a formula that worked well for D.C. United during the first few years of MLS when Bruce Arena brought in many former University of Virginia stars.

Tab Ramos: After playing in only five games in 1999 and missing the first six games of 2000 because of injuries, many MLS insiders were questioning whether or not the three-time United States World Cup midfielder would ever play in the league again. Ramos defied the skeptics and has seen action in 13 games, scoring two goals to go with four assists. The two-time MLS All-Star provides a possession-oriented style of play, and recently earned a call-up to the U.S. national team for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers at Guatemala and Costa Rica.

L.A. connection: Many experts point to the early-season acquisitions of Steve Jolley, Clint Mathis and Roy Myers as a key to the MetroStars' success. Mathis, a forward\midfielder and midfielder Myers were ordered from Los Angeles to the MetroStars when Mexican star striker Luis Hernandez was signed for the Galaxy.

Jolley is a key component of the league's third stingiest defense (1.35 goals per game), Mathis is a legitimate "Most Valuable Player" candidate and Myers provides a variety of offensive options in midfield. The combination of Mathis, Myers, Mark Chung and Ramos provides the MetroStars with the ability to keep possession, something the club did not have in past seasons.

Goalkeeping:Veteran Mike Ammann is a steady presence who is more comfortable with the team chemistry in his second season with the club. Due to injuries, Ammann has missed the club's last three games, allowing third-year netminder Tim Howard to showcase his talents while going unbeaten in all four contests (including three shutouts). In fact, the now-healthy Ammann might not be able to supplant Howard, who has a 0.24 goals against average in those four contests.

Maturity and depth: Young players such as defenders Mike Petke and Ramiro Corrales, midfielder Billy Walsh and forward Petter Villegas learned under fire in past seasons. This group of young talent has learned from past mistakes and is now reaping the rewards. In addition, forward Alex Comas, defender Thomas Dooley and rookie striker Steve Shak could all start, but have also proved to be valuable coming off the bench.

Road rules: The MetroStars have the best road mark in MLS at 6-3, including a team-record four consecutive road victories. No other MLS team has won more than four games on the road. Overall, MLS teams are 32-68-24 on the road during the 2000 regular season.

However, with success comes national team call-ups, and the Metros will lose Mathis and Ramos for the next two matches. The two attacking players will be with the U.S. national team until July 24 for 2002 World Cup qualifiers.

The MetroStars match against heated rival New England Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (ET) on ESPN is the first of three remaining games against the Revs. In addition, the Metros battle Miami three more times this year. Only three of the remaining 12 games are against opponents with a winning percentage above .500.

Zambrano and his coaching staff will oversee the East team at the MLS All-Star Game July 29 in Columbus, Ohio. As previously announced, Kansas City's Bob Gansler will coach the West All-Star team.

Capsule previews of the weekend’s full slate of six games (with all times Eastern):


MetroStars at New England Revolution - 3:30 p.m., ESPN
Records:
MetroStars 11-7-2, 35 points, first in Eastern Division; New England 7-8-5, second in East.
Season series: MetroStars lead 1-0, defeating Revolution 4-2 at home on June 17.
All-time regular-season series: New England leads series 10-7 (MetroStars lead 31-29 on aggregate goals).
Leading scorers: MetroStars - F Clint Mathis (9 goals, 9 assists, 27 points); New England - F Wolde Harris (8-5-21).
Did you know? The MetroStars are 9-1-1 in games in which they have scored first this season.
Key players out: MetroStars - M Tab Ramos (U.S. national team), F Clint Mathis (U.S. national team), D Thomas Dooley (left hamstring); New England - M Ted Chronopoulos (strained left hamstring).
Key matchup: MetroStars D Mike Petke vs. New England’s Harris - Petke is playing the best soccer of his MLS career, shutting down the opposition's toughest forwards with authority. Harris will use his physical strength and speed to maneuver around the defender.
Notes: These two East Coast rivals were tied for the Eastern Division lead just a few weeks ago, but the MetroStars have since jumped out to a nine point lead . . . A victory at Foxboro Stadsium Saturday would go a long way toward putting a Metros seal on the division and the Revolution realistically cannot afford to tie if it hopes it finish first . . . The matchup looks favorable to New England because the MetroStars will be deprived of the services of their offensive leaders Tab Ramos and Clint Mathis. Both will be with the U.S. national team for World Cup qualifiers. They were the first MetroStars national-team call-ups since Miles Joseph in 1998 . . . Also, Lothar Matthaeus is questionable for the match while Mark Chung and Mark Semioli are listed as doubtful . . . While the MetroStars may lose a host of players, the Revolution recently acquired Spanish forward Jose Luis Morales and national team veteran Eric Wynalda to shore up a struggling forward line. Morales, 26, should be available for the match Saturday . . . Wynalda could see action as a late sub if his calf injury allows him to play . . . New England is expected to recover one of its two dominant flank players in Imad Baba, the team's second-leading scorer who has been out since June 21 with a separated shoulder . . . Coach Octavio Zambrano's MetroStars are 7-1-2 in their last 10 games compared to the Revolution streak of 4-5-1 in the same span . . . The MetroStars have won four straight on the road with their last road loss May 13 in Kansas City . . . In the only other meeting of the season between these two squads, the MetroStars exposed the Revolution defense, scoring four goals, the first since the arrival of defender Mauricio Wright in New England . . . The Revs will be returning home for the first time since June 10 after a five-game road trip . . . These two teams still have two meetings remaining later in the season which may prove to be decisive.
Scheduled officials: Referee - Rich Grady; Assistants - Robert Fereday, Zekai Akbay.


Kansas City Wizards at Columbus Crew, 4:30 p.m., Telemundo, MetroSports
Records:
Kansas City 11-3-5, 38 points, first in West; Columbus 8-10-4, 28 points, third in Central.
Season series: First meeting.
All-time regular-season series: Columbus leads 6-5 (Crew leads 29-21 on aggregate goals).
Leading scorers: Kansas City - F Miklos Molnar (8-1-17); Columbus - F Dante Washington (13-7-33)
Did you know? Kansas City, with an MLS record 13 shutouts in 2000, has never shut out the Crew in 11 all-time meetings.
Key players out: Kansas City - F Alex Bunbury (left ankle surgery), Gary Glasgow (Trinidad & Tobago national team), M Matt McKeon (card accumulation suspension); Columbus: - F Brian McBride (fractured cheekbone), D Ansil Elcock (Trinidad & Tobago national team).
Key matchup: Kansas City M Chris Henderson vs. Columbus M Robert Warzycha - On paper, this looks like an obvious favorable matchup for the Wizards. Henderson, who is scoreless in his career against the Crew, can outpace most opposing flank players and if Warzycha commits himself to offense like he often does, then Henderson may be playing the role of an added forward.
Notes: Kansas City still owns the best record in all of MLS after losing at Arrowhead Stadium for the first time this season at the hands of the MetroStars. In its last 10 games Kansas City is just 4-3-3 . . . The main problem seems to be offense with the Wizards having scored just three goals in six games . . . Molnar made his first appearance with K.C. Saturday since returning from Euro 2000 where he was with the Danish national team . . . The Wizards are winless in their last four road games . . . After this visit to Columbus, Kansas City will return to Arrowhead to host its next four games . . . Wizards coach Bob Gansler will make another visit to Crew Stadium during All-Star Weekend at the end of the month to serve as coach of the West All-Star squad . . . The Crew is not in their best stretch of the season either, going 3-4-3 in its last 10 games. Only D.C. United has fared worse . . . With two goals in Wednesday’s 4-1 rout of New England, Washington has 13 goals to surpass his personal season-high of 12. He also leads the Crew in minutes played . . . Wizards midfielder Preki has six goals and six assists in 10 career games against the Crew . . . Kansas City will play host to the Crew the following Saturday to conclude a two-game season series.
Scheduled officials: Referee - Terry Vaughn; Assistants - Nathan Clement, Glenn Prechac.


Dallas Burn at Miami Fusion, 7:30 p.m., Fox Southwest.
Records:
Dallas 8-11-3, 27 points, fourth in Central; Miami 7-9-4, 25 points, third in East.
Season series: First meeting.
All-time regular-season series: Series tied 2-2 (Dallas leads 6-4 on aggregate goals).
Leading scorers: Dallas - F Jason Kreis (10-10-30); Miami - F Diego Serna (7-6-20).
Did you know? Dallas has scored two goals in their last five road games.
Key players out: Dallas - G Mark Dodd (right hand surgery), M Sergi Daniv (left ankle fracture), F Jason Kreis (U.S. national team), M Chad Deering (U.S. national team), D Jorge Rodriguez (El Salvador national team); Miami - D Pablo Mastroeni (red-card suspension), D Tyrone Marshall (Jamaican national team), M Andy Williams (Jamaican national team).
Key matchup: Dallas M Oscar Pareja vs. Miami M Jim Rooney - Rooney is expected to shadow Parejam, but the activity of the Colombian midfielder spans the entire width of the field. If Rooney does not follow him close enough, it will give the Burn a numerical advantage in parts of the field.
Notes: This is a direct battle for a playoff position with the Burn currently holding the final postseason spot and the Fusion to positions below . . . This is the first game of a home-and-home series which resumes four days later in Dallas . . . The home team has won each game in the all-time series . . . The Burn is the only team left in MLS this season without a road victory (0-9-2), although the performances away from the Cotton Bowl have often been better than the results indicate . . . National team commitments will take a toll on both squads as the Burn will be without four starters, including their top scorer Kreis . . . The Fusion will miss Tyrone Marshall and Andy Williams with the Jamaican side . . . Miami will have a proven MLS starter in recently acquired Ivan McKinley, a versatile player who can fill roles on defense and in midfield . . . Saturday's match concludes a four-game homestand for Miami, which has seen the Fusion go 1-2 thus far . . . While the Dallas front line is one of the most feared in MLS, the Fusion have just one forward (Diego Serna) with more than three goals . . . The one bright spot in the Fusion's 5-3 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday was the offense which came alive with the addition of Roy Lassiter in the second half. It remains to be seen whether coach Ray Hudson will change the starting lineup to include Lassiter . . . For the past six games, Miami has alternated wins and losses . . . Hudson's squad will host English club Nottingham Forest in an exhibition at Lockhart Stadium on Wednesday.
Scheduled officials: Referee - Gerry Corrie; Assistants - George Vergara, Reggie Rutty.


Tampa Bay Mutiny at Chicago Fire, 8 p.m., ESPN2.
Records:
Tampa Bay 11-9-1, 34 points, first in Central; Chicago 10-8-3 , 33 points, second in Central.
Season series: Fire leads 1-0 after 5-1 home victory April 28.
All-time regular-season series: Chicago leads 4-1 (Fire leads 11-4 in aggregate goals).
Leading scorers: Tampa Bay - F Mamadou Diallo (17-2-36); Chicago - F Ante Razov (12-5-29).
Did you know? The Mutiny's Josh Keller, Ritchie Kotschau and Manny Lagos each occupied a spot on the Fire's roster last season.
Key players out: Tampa Bay - none reported; Chicago - M Chris Armas (U.S. national team); F Ante Razov (U.S. national team), M Diego Gutierrez (concussion), D Lubos Kubik (MCL sprain), M Peter Nowak (leg contusion), G Chris Snitko (lower back pain), F Hristo Stoitchkov (groin tear).
Key matchup: Tampa Bay’s Diallo vs. Chicago D C.J. Brown - It's unlikely Brown will shadow Diallo for the entire match, but as Chicago's biggest defender, he's the logical choice to try and knock the big striker off his game. Plenty of cover will be provided by rookie Carlos Bocanegra, but the Fire's hopes could ride on Brown's physical presence. Without defensive midfielder Chris Armas to harass playmaker Carlos Valderrama, Diallo should get plenty of service.
Notes: The Mutiny took over first place in the Central Division after a 2-2 draw at D.C. United Wednesday . . . Between injuries and national team call-ups, only a clutch effort from Chicago's back line of defenders C.J. Brown, Carlos Bocanegra, Andrew Lewis and goalkeeper Zach Thornton might be able to help the team overcome the absences of national teamers Razov and Armas . . . With midfielders Diego Gutierrez and Peter Nowak both questionable following injuries suffered against Columbus, young forwards Dema Kovalenko (two goals against Columbus) and Josh Wolff will carry almost all of the offensive load for Chicago . . . If the Fire is unable to posses and attack, the Mutiny's seemingly unstoppable combination of Diallo and Valderrama (league-leading 19 assists) should be all over the Fire defense . . . Chicago got only a brief glimpse of Diallo when it waxed the Mutiny 5-1 on April 28. The Senegalese sniper now dubbed "Big Mama" started that match on the bench, and entered the game 13 minutes into the second half . . . If things couldn't get worse for the Fire, it could also face the unknown entity represented by Mozambique international forward Manuel "Tico Tico" Bucuane, who made his MLS debut Wednesday.
Scheduled officials: Referee - Noel Kenny; Assistants - George Gansner, Francisco Sanchez.


Colorado Rapids at San Jose Earthquakes, 10 p.m., Fox Rocky Mountain, Fox Bay Area.
Records:
Colorado 9-10-2, 29 points, third in West; San Jose 5-8-8, 23 points, fourth in West.
Season series: San Jose leads 2-0 (Earthquakes lead 5-2 in aggregate goals).
All-time regular-season series: San Jose leads 10-8 (Earthquakes lead 33-32 in aggregate goals).
Leading scorers: Colorado - F Junior Agogo (7-7-21); San Jose - F Abdul Thompson Conteh (8-3-21).
Did you know? Colorado is 1-5 against Western Division teams in 2000.
Key players out: Colorado - F Jorge Dely Valdes (Panamanian national team), D Jason Bent (Canadian national team), G Adin Brown (knee strain), M Jason Moore (hamstring strain); San Jose: M Wade Barrett (groin strain), F Ronald Cerritos (El Salvador national team\right quadricep strain), D Jimmy Conrad (yellow-card suspension), D John Doyle (right groin strain), M Mauricio Solis (red-card suspension)
Key matchup: Colorado D Lance Key vs. San Jose’s Conteh - A momentary mental lapse by the rookie Key allowed Conteh to sneak free for the game-winner last Saturday. Key and the rest of the Rapids defense will need to stay mentally sharp for the entire match to keep the speedy opportunist from getting free for dangerous counter attacks.
Notes: Unbeaten in 15 straight games at home, the Earthquakes return home for a rematch with the Rapids only three points away from the final playoff spot. In occupying fourth place in the Western Division standings, San Jose has lost just twice in its last ten games (3-2-5) . . . Despite the fact that the Rapids own four more victories than San Jose, the Earthquake’s ability to earn a handful of late draws has earned them a reputation as a very dangerous team . . . Colorado, meanwhile, continues to fight injuries and inconsistency . . . San Jose will likely have only 14 members of their regular roster available Saturday . . . In the first meeting between the teams on June 3, three Quakes goals in the final five minutes washed the Rapids out of Spartan Stadium on the losing end of a 4-2 result. Dario Brose scored the 90th minute game-winner in that match and has since become irreplaceable in San Jose's midfield . . . Despite Colorado's inconsistency, the speed and creativity of Agogo along with the recent contributions of Matthew Okoh, still make the Rapids dangerous up front . . . While hovering just under or near the .500 mark this season, Colorado's loss to San Jose last weekend was the team's sixth consecutive setback in a game in which a win would have evened the team's record. The Rapids are now 0-6 in 2000 when attempting to even their record at .500, but have lost in two straight games only one time this year.
Scheduled officials: Referee - Alex Prus; Assistants - Roger Itaya, Ricardo Salazar.


D.C. United at Los Angeles Galaxy, 10:30 p.m., Home Team Sports, Fox Sports West 2.
Records:
D.C. United 4-13-6, 18 points, fourth in East; Los Angeles 10-5-7, 37 points, second in West.
Season series: Los Angeles leads 3-0 (Galaxy leads 8-2 in aggregate goals).
All-time regular-season series: Series tied 7-7 (Galaxy leads 21-18 in aggregate goals).
Leading scorers: United - F Jaime Moreno (10-5-25); Los Angeles - M Cobi Jones (7-4-18).
Did you know? A total of 10 starters (D.C.-3, L.A.-7) will miss this match because of World Cup qualifying or injury.
Key players out: United - D Jeff Agoos (right knee surgery), M Ben Olsen (left ankle sprain, D Eddie Pope (U.S. national team) Los Angeles - M Cobi Jones (U.S. national team), D Robin Fraser (U.S. national team), D Greg Vanney (U.S. national team), M Mauricio Cienfuegos (El Salvadoran national team), F Luis Hernández (Mexican national team), D Ezra Hendrickson (St. Vincent & The Grenadines national team), M Danny Pena (ACL surgery).
Key matchup: United D Carlos Llamosa vs. Los Angeles F Sebastien Vorbe - Llamosa returns from a one-game suspension and will serve as the lone mainstay available among D.C.'s once vaunted defense. Vorbe's form has improved since being pushed up to forward in the Galaxy alignment, and L.A.'s hopes will rest largely on his ability to create opportunities.
Notes: At any other point in the season, United would be considered the underdog in this match. However, the Galaxy will take the field with a fractured roster that has suddenly been decimated by World Cup qualifying call-ups . . . L.A.'s offense was dazzling in a 5-3 win over Miami last Saturday. Two goals by Jones, and a goal and assist by Hernández pushed the Galaxy to within one point of West-leading Kansas City . . . Despite missing regular starters Ben Olsen, Jeff Agoos and Eddie Pope, United will retain the services of midfielder Marco Etcheverry, and forwards Jaime Moreno and Raul Diaz Arce. That triumvirate alone gives D.C. an advantage regardless of the holes that exist in other places for the Black-and-Red . . . L.A. rookie defender Danny Califf and and goalkeeper Kevin Hartman will likely have to weather the storm on a defense which will be without three of its veteran regulars in Fraser, Vanney and Hendrickson . . . Up front for L.A.: rookie Sasha Victorine and Vorbe will need big games in the absence of Jones, Hernández and Cienfuegos . . . United will likely use its 25th different lineup in the team's 25th match of the season as it seeks to avoid being swept in a four game-series for the first time in team history.
Scheduled officials: Referee - Kevin Stott; Assistants - Roger Sill, David Bragg.

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