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John Haydon: War of words detracts from MLS goals

(September 23, 1997) -- The nasty war of words that broke out recently between D.C. United coach Bruce Arena and Major League Soccer commissioner Doug Logan has been brewing for quite a while.

It started in July when Arena blasted the league for allowing the struggling New York/New Jersey MetroStars to obtain Brazilian defender Branco. "To start helping teams out when they are not doing well opens up a can of worms," Arena said at the time. "I haven't seen them (the league) throw any players our way, and we have missed our star players more than anyone."

How the MetroStars were able to fit Branco under the strict salary cap ($1.3 million per team) is still a mystery. He was earning well over $1.4 million playing for Middlesbrough of the English Premier League last year. It's unlikely that the proud Brazilian, a star of the 1994 World Cup, came to America for peanuts.

When asked about the allocation of Branco, MLS deputy commissioner Sunil Gulati quoted some new rule and said, "You would be surprised at what (price) we really got him for."

Those who follow the league closely know the MLS salary cap is a farce. If you're a player like Branco, Roberto Donadoni or Jorge Campos, it doesn't really apply. The salary cap is only really there to explain to hard-working John Maessners and Eric Imlers of MLS, why they are only earning about $50,000. It would have been better if the league had been a tiny bit honest in the Branco affair and said, "Look, we're bending the rules a little here because the league needs a viable team in the New York market in order to survive."

MLS was created as a "single-entity" league whereby all player contracts, bound by a salary cap, are owned by the league to limit the disparities. But if the league is continually bending the rules, resentments will fester. The league should either stick to its founding principles or go back to the drawing board; it can't have it both ways.

Arena's assault on MLS leadership last week regarding 20-man rosters and the firing of coaches was a little harsh but valid. There's always a danger when a fledgling organization such as MLS starts airing its problems in public. Soccer bashers are just waiting for the league to self-destruct.

Logan was right when he told The Washington Post that Arena should understand the difficulties of running a young league. Logan and the ubiquitous Gulati are trying to do their best, but Logan was way off base when he was quoted as saying, "He (Arena) frequently opens his mouth to lace his shoes."

Although Logan may not like Arena's outbursts, the fact remains that D.C. United is the flagship team of MLS and its biggest draw on the road. With all the difficulties United has faced, the club still produces some of the best soccer in the league. When the team was missing its so-called attacking "Magic Triangle" of Raul Diaz Arce, Marco Etcheverry and Jamie Moreno early in theseason for seven games the team responded by winning six matches. Go figure.

Every trade the club has made this season has been a success, while the opposite can be said for the MetroStars and New England Revolution. Arena, general manger Kevin Payne and assistant coach Bob Bradley are the United's "Magic Triangle" off the field.

Logan should look at United as a case study and sit down at United Park for a friendly chat with Arena.

John Haydon is soccer columnist for the Washington Times and may be e-mailed at haydon@twtmail.com

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