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John Haydon: Is D.C. United paying for success?

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Monday, March 9, 1998) -- D.C. United is being penalized for its success by a league that seems determined to create parity, United general manager Kevin Payne says.

Although many other clubs in Major League Soccer have bolstered their rosters with new talent in the offseason, United has seen little in return for the players it lost in the expansion draft. The club believes it has been thwarted in its attempt to add skilled players.

United filed an official complaint with MLS this week over the allocation of Jamaican forward Andrew Williams to the Columbus Crew. Williams, a 20-year-old, two-time all-American at the University of Rhode Island and a member of Jamaica's World Cup team, was assigned to the Crew even though United made a request to the league for him.

"When we are virtually given no opportunity to get better, except by improving our own players, I think we are being punished," Payne said. "Especially when you look at New York and New England, who are getting lots of new players."

MLS handles all player contracts in order to maintain parity and fiscal responsibility within the league. Although Payne concedes it's healthy for the league to have competitive balance, he stresses that good teams should not be neglected.

"I don't believe the role of the league is to force parity," he said. "The NFL doesn't do that. It creates rules to maintain a level playing field, but the league is not setting up to punish the Packers."

Still, Payne should be happy that United's starting lineup is nearly intact from its 1997 championship season and is still the envy of the league.

Canadian defender Geoff Aunger will replace right back David Vaudreuil, who went to Miami in the expansion draft. United States national team striker Roy Wegerle and reserve A.J. Wood should fill the role of Raul Diaz Arce, who was traded to New England in a move forced by salary-cap considerations. Aunger was obtained in that trade.

Payne is worried that his team hasn't been able to replace a player like "super substitute" John Maessner, who also went to Miami in the expansion draft. Although Maessner started only 20 games last year, he was experienced, reliable and played in all 32 regular-season games.

Many of United's new hopefuls, such as forwards Ben Olsen and Judah Cooksand midfielders Carey Talley and Mike Slivinski, have played primarily in college.

"We've seen in the past that it's difficult to make the jump from college soccer into MLS," Payne said.

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

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