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Op-Ed \ John Haydon

Lets hope MLS fans give Matthaeus the reception the great player deserves.

(Monday, April 3, 2000) -- Lothar Matthaeus said goodbye to his German club less than a month ago before a massive crowd of over 70,000 passionate fans at Munich's Olympic Stadium with his Bayern Munich club crushing Spanish giant Real Madrid 4-1.

At the final whistle the German hero, holding back tears, performed a lap of honor to a standing ovation. Even the defeated Madrid players lined up to shake his hand. It was quite a farewell for one of the world's greatest players.

For a moment I thought that Matthaeus should have ended his career right there and then, on top and in such a great setting.

But on March 25, there was the man who once held the World Cup trophy aloft, running himself ragged for the New Jerseyís MetroStars as the team went down 3-1 to the Miami Fusion before a miserly crowd of 10,482 fans at a refurbished high school stadium.

"Welcome to America Lothar!" I muttered as I watched the game on TV.

While I was originally ecstatic to hear that Matthaeus was coming to play in Major League Soccer for a year, I couldn't help feeling that the German ace may have made a big mistake. Maybe it's because I so much want this story to have a happy ending.

Matthaeus has always been one of my favorite players, ever since the 1980s when the only soccer you could get on American television was "Soccer Made in Germany" on PBS.

The German ace is now being touted as the latest messiah to save what was meant to be the flagship team of MLS. But after all the recent hype and the new signings, the MetroStars against Miami looked, well, like the MetroStars, disorganized and without any offensive punch. I hope I'm wrong, and that Matthaeus doesn't become another victim of the MetroStars curse.

The club has seen very little success after six coaches and more than 80 players, including 22 foreign allocations. We all may be expecting too much of the German star. And can he keep up his hectic pace?

No sooner had he pulled off his cleats after the Miami game, Matthaeus was on a plane back to Germany to prepare for the German national team's exhibition game against Croatia on Wednesday. Friday, he was back in the U.S. for his only training session of the week with the MetroStars. He looked tired and had little effect on his teamís surprising 3-2 victory over D.C. United before 27,332 for the teamís home opener at Giants Stadium

Many of those fans are pinning their hopes on the German to end four years of apathy at the club. "I'm sure once Lothar plays a few more training sessions with us he will be an impact player," said MetroStars coach Octavio Zambrano this week. The coach added that it would take at least "seven to 10 games" before he could really judge how his team is doing.

That's about the time that Matthaeus will be leaving them to join the German national team as it prepares to defend its title at the European Champions Cup this summer, which could keep him away for at least eight games. Said Zambrano, "What we need to do as a club is try to make sure that Lothar's absence is not a negative. We need to prepare as a team and think of Lothar Matthaeus as an added bonus to what we are doing and not the central point."

Let's hope this latest episode in the long saga of the MetroStars turns out to be a positive one for the sake of Matthaeus and the league.

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

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