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Opinion \ Willy Calderon

MLS should make play for Suker.

LONDON (Monday, April 24, 2000) -- Much has been written recently about Major League Soccer signing a Mexican player with "superstar" status. Presumably it will cost the league a bundle, but the league apparently feels the investment is worth the risk given the large contingent of Mexican-Americans in MLS cities.

However, there is another superstar that will be available in less than a month and he will cost nothing in transfer fees. Reliable reports out of London this week state that Davor Suker is on his way out at Arsenal. The Croatian international will be allowed to leave on a free transfer at the end of the Premier League season in May.

The 32-year-old striker will be coming up on an option year of his contract which Arsenal is reluctant to pick up. The club already has powerful weapons up front including Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, and Nwanku Kanu, and are making a strong move in obtaining Europe's most sought-after striker, PSV Eindhoven's Ruud van Nistelrooy. With so many weapons up front, the club feels it has the luxury of letting Suker go.

Many will remember that Suker was the top scorer at the World Cup in France '98. His six goals helped lead Croatia to a surprise third-place finish, including a 3-0 upset of Germany. His thunderous left foot was legendary in Spain after successful seasons with Real Madrid, even though he found himself on the bench during the club's run at the European Cup in 1998.

He has since enjoyed moderate success in the Premiere League, scoring 11 goals despite only 14 starts this season.

Interestingly, while Suker was being shopped around by Real Madrid last summer, a report revealed that MLS made an ambitious for his services. The story, which originally appeared on CNN, stated that he would have been shipped to the Metrostars as its major allocation.

However, he eventually signed with Arsenal and has spent much of the season on the bench.

Getting a superstar like Suker represents a wonderful opportunity for MLS. It would be another boost to an already impressive list of allocations this season. Like any Mexican superstar, he would be a draw anywhere he went, particularly in the Midwest. Attendance would likely increase, especially in areas like Chicago where there is an estimated 300,000 Croatian-Americans.

Pundits may criticize a move for a striker who is 32 years of age, but Suker has proven in his limited time at Arsenal that he still has the knack of scoring spectacular goals. Just ask Sunderland goalkeeper Tomas Sorensen.

In a Premier League match in January between Arsenal and Sunderland, Suker terrorized the keeper all day. In the 27th minute of the match, he collected a ball on the left wing from about 30 yards out and, from the acutest of angles, hooked a dipping shot into the far right corner that left Sorensen spellbound. Suker went on to score again and assist on a third goal.

Money shouldn't be a problem with Suker, especially when comparing Arsenal's strict wage scale with what the league is paying 39-year-old Lothar Matthaeus. The trouble would be to convince him to leave European soccer behind. He has been quoted as saying that he would prefer to stay in London. But with the work MLS has done with recent international signings, it is not impossibility.

While this may be little more than a pipe dream, the league shouldn't count itself out when it comes to signing top-tier players like Suker. If it gives up on such players without trying, then it will have to settle for second- and third-tier players like many second-division clubs in Europe. Like the old cliche says, "nothing ventured, nothing gained."

Willy Calderon, an American living in Bristol, England, can be e-mailed at willy@netcity.co.uk.

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