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Op-Ed \ Dan Roudebush

$100 million is not enough!

(Monday, February 1, 1999) -- The $100 million pledged by Major League Soccer owners over the next five years is not enough! Not to develop world class American players or to ensure the life of the MLS..

The owners have pledged the $100 million to sustain operating losses of $20 million a year. Evidently they are banking their main chips on slightly improved TV ratings and getting, say, at least 20 percent of the National Hockey League's $600 million TV revenues or $120 million back in their pockets.

Wrong boys! Traditionalists came out and took a look the first year and found your product wanting. Attendance has dropped dramatically. To the credit of MLS, it has made extensive efforts to grow new audiences. Something they will soon find has hoisted them on their own petard. The new guys are rapidly being exposed to top level soccer via foreign imports on the tube. Recent improvements in quality of play will have to continue simultaneously with a corresponding decrease in foreign imports, and an exodus of young U.S. talent to foreign clubs.

Tack on a requirement for 32 new U.S. players in the year 2000 (because of expansion), turn over and replacement of some of the initial fossils, and MLS is looking at least 50 new U.S. players in the next two years, not to mention another 32 by the year 2002 for the announced third expansion.

What's in store? A paltry announced increased in Project 40 of 12 new players.

It's time MLS faced the music and setup a development system that starts during high school years. Pros should be developing pros not the United States Soccer Federation. If MLS doesn't, it won't get the top U.S. players. The young potential stars will go overseas. Recruited by operators currently inside U.S. and Canadian borders such as Ajax, Lazio, Chivas, Luton Town, Club America, and others who recognize the vast numbers in the U.S. represent loads of talent when developed under a professional, rather than amateur system. Thank heaven for the Galaxy P-40 tryouts as some sort of individual club effort. Scraps, however, when viewed from the lack of a league identification, recruitment, and training system.

Three million a year for young (high school age) development, adds up to another $15 million over the $100 million the owners have committed. That 15 percent is a small price to pay to bump the quality of MLS and ensure attendance and ratings keep on rising. The recent U.S.-Australia match should be enough to illustrate that the quality of play of MLS players still has a long way to go. Without continued quality increases the league could fall into a slow death dance.

Any hopes of the U.S. winning the World Cup in my lifetime would rest on a Denmark-like situation where a few good players participate in the top overseas leagues. Will USSF ride to the rescue and task MLS to develop national team players? And kick in a start up development budget of $10 million to aid the owners? A good protective measure to ensure the U.S. gets the Cup in 2010 where the USSF's own coffers could easily garner $100 million.

Logical, Dr. Spock, but not politically correct. Not withstanding the recent pro raids on the national under-17 team, USSF president Bob Contiguglia has to deal with the vast array of paid and amateur help in the U.S. youth system that develops players for college.

Dan Roudebush, along with Dan Barnes, maintains the "Soccer Commentary" web site at http://www.visi.com/~dpbarnes/Commentary/. Roudebush and Barnes devote considerable effort to promoting a national fan movement supporting the idea that player development in the United States should be taken over by the pro leagues.

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