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Op-ed \ Chuck Zsolnai

A fan’s holiday wish.

ORLANDO, Fla. (Tuesday, December 22, 1998) -- The old children’s holiday song used to wish "All I want for Christmas (is my two front teeth)." In the modern version, United States soccer fans are wanting a little more.

The watermark for any decent American club now would be a player capable of scoring 20 goals in a season and playing at home in a stadium not "rented" for other uses. Additionally, Major League Soccer clubs should be regularly battling to keep the CONCACAF and InterAmerican trophies.

The watermark for top goal-scorers is 20. Forget about assists, because as Brian Bliss said "they give them out like the Pope gives wafers". The inaugural season proved that the three 20-goal men had led their teams to the top: Roy Lassiter had 27 and his Tampa Bay Mutiny finished with the best record during the year. Raul Diaz Arce and Eduardo Hurtado tallied 23 and 21, respectively, for their clubs. Arce’s D.C. United met Hurtado’s Galaxy in the first MLS Cup final.

The only other 20 goal man has been Stern John who’s 26 strikes led the league in 1998. His club, the Columbus Crew, had the misfortune to lose to CONCACAF Champions D.C. United in the playoffs. Cobi Jones, with 19 goals, and his Los Angeles Galaxy fell short in this World Cup year.

Falling short is not the case for the A-League champion Rochester Rhinos. Any other "major" soccer league (England, Italy, Germany) in the world would have rewarded the Second Division winners a step up to the Premier or top level with promotion. While Rochester has had to curtail the amount of fans (due to fire laws) it can accommodate in its stadium, Tampa Bay had to beg to move into the new NFL stadium next door to seat the few hundred that faithfully attend the MLS club’s matches.

The Rhinos have now started to discuss plans to build their own grounds. Meanwhile, the Columbus Crew will be hosting games in its very own soccer only stadium by the summer of 1999. Something that should have been available right after the 1994 World Cup. There should be no circumstances in the fourth year of MLS that any club play its home games on a pitch marked with gridiron lines, bare patches from motor cross races or stomped grass from a boy scout jamboree.

Teams like the Rochester Rhinos are open for business even during the closed-season. Years ago most clubs folded up the tents and did not resurface until a few weeks before league play began. MLS’s future stars -- Project 40 -- has just finished sweeping a series of matches beating five of the English club’s reserve sides during their tour. This is a far cry from the days of waiting for the college hopefuls to turn up for tryouts.

D.C. United granted a special wish for us Americans when it proudly defeated the South American champion Vasco da Gama in a two-game series. This was not a friendly, not an exhibition and all player personnel were available to the clubs. Now perhaps those skeptical foreign fans living in the States will finally come out to see a MLS match, not just talk about them. Then I would welcome their criticism.

If MLS is to truly be a Major League -- that is to compete against the world’s best -- it must accomplish these simple tasks. Meanwhile fans need to wish for a little more each year.

Chuck Zsolnai works at the International Soccer Archives and can be e-mailed at LYVRPL@aol.com.

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