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Op-Ed \ John Haydon

Arena less than thrilled with new MLS All-Star format.

By John Haydon
Special to SoccerTimes

(Saturday, July 31, 1998) -- Not everyone is pleased with the format of tomorrow's Major League Soccer All-Star Game at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla.

The league's two previous all-star matches pitted the best players from the Eastern Conference against the Western Conference. This year the league's United States stars will compete against the World all-stars.

"Making more of this particular game is a mistake," said (Washington) D.C. United coach Bruce Arena, who will coach the U.S. team. "This is not the Americans versus the foreign players really; it's MLS players playing."

Arena admits that he dislikes the new format. "First of all, there aren't enough foreign players in the league to have a fair fan vote," Arena said.

There are just over 50 foreign players in the league, and 20 will play in the All-Star Game. There are nearly 200 American players in MLS. "It hurts some Americans, in terms of getting recognition and bonuses," Arena said. I just think this (MLS) isn't like the NHL, where there is a strong nucleus of foreign players. I just think it's a mistake."

One American player who feels slighted by the new setup is the United States team's all-time leading scorer, Eric Wynalda, who finished third in fan voting for forwards behind Preki and Brian McBride but will not play in the game.

"Supposedly this league is for the fans; this is why we have shootouts and things like this," Wynalda told the San Jose Mercury-News. "If the league decides to nix me from the All-Star Game after I finished third in the voting, then I have a right to question the decision."

This is one more bad break for Wynalda, who has been injured much of this season, had a lousy World Cup and has scored just four goals for the San Jose Clash this year.

Instead of using Wynalda as one of the reserve forwards, Arena selected United's Roy Lassiter, MLS's leading goal scorer, and Colorado's Paul Bravo. The pair came in fifth and sixth, respectively, in fan voting behind Wynalda and Roy Wegerle.

United is the only team to have more than one starter on each team. Five United stars will start, and three will sit on the bench. Defender Eddie Pope and midfielder John Harkes will play for the U.S. team, while Canadian Geoff Aunger and Bolivians Marco Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno will start for the World team. Defender Jeff Agoos and midfielder Ben Olsen, along with Lassiter, will be reserves on the U.S. team.

The Dallas Burn and San Jose Clash have no players in the starting lineups.

Los Angeles Galaxy coach Octavio Zambrano will coach the World team. The starters for the 1998 All-Star teams were selected by the fans, and the seven reserves on each team were chosen by the All-Star coaches.

Etcheverry was the top vote-getter with 23,922 votes, followed by Cobi Jones (21,971), Thomas Dooley (21,818), Pope (20,711) and Jorge Campos (20,663).

One player Arena didn't choose as a reserve was Olsen. But MLS commissioner Doug Logan added the 21-year-old rookie to the U.S. team to replace the injured Brian Maisonneuve. "The game should be about putting on a good show for the fans," Arena said. "I can imagine it will be wide open, and a lot of goals will be scored."

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

Articles and opinions expressed by other columnists are not necessarily the opinion of SoccerTimes.