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Op-Ed \ Ralph Culver

New MLS season brings optimism, suggestion for new All-Star format.

(Sunday, March 26, 2000) -- The sun's a little brighter, the air a little warmer, and hope for a championship burns in the heart of every fan. Spring and the promise of renewal are in the air: it's time to play ball. Football, that is; the 2000 Major League Soccer season is underway.

I, for one, am more excited and optimistic about this MLS campaign than any since the inaugural season, and I don't believe it's merely due to the genetic predisposition every New England sports fan has toward rose-colored cornea. Yes, this year's Revs model is potentially the best team to hit the Foxboro pitch ever. But it's so much more than that. Everything you've heard and read about all of the changes in the league being for the better are true.

One change MLS has undertaken is realignment to three divisions. The hope is this configuration will build up more intense club rivalries. But this move has created a fluky problem for the MLS brass to deal with in that oh-so-American of sporting institutions we have foisted on the world's game: how do we choose two sides for the MLS All-Star Game?

Here's a proposition that I think would be great fun for everyone, create more fanfare and hoopla for the public and the press, take a page from one of the great traditions of world football -- and it gets around the threee-conference problem. Colors being so important in soccer, and as MLS is our premier American league, let's have the Reds vs. the Blues.

As always, the fans vote for their favorite players, by position. The highest vote-getters are in, as follows: top four forwards, top eight midfielders, top eight backs, top two keeps. The four MLS head coaches with the best records at the All-Star break will earn the honor of serving as the coach\assistant coach for the two teams, first- and second-best records to head-coach, third and fourth to assist. The coaches select the reserves.

The selection ceremony takes place on national TV. A la World Cup qualifying, put all the names in balls and place the balls into bowls by field position, head coach, and assistant coach. Let's have commissioner Don Garber flip a coin, Blue on one side, Red on the other. Whichever side comes up on the toss decides order of designation.

The names are then drawn by fans who have won the right to do so in an All-Star Draw promotion. Draw the head coaches first; then, alternately, assistant coaches, keepers, defenders, etc., until all names have been selected. Voila: two All-Star teams that would be a mystery to even the players and coaches until the moment the draw is completed.

there's my solution. No matter how the teams are chosen, though, it's not going to affect my enjoyment of the coming season -- particularly now, while I have every right to fantasize about Burnsie, Harksie, Chrono, and the rest of the New England boys holding the Cup above their heads as they drive in glory down Commonwealth Avenue.

May you heartily enjoy this year’s MLS campaign for the Cup -- and may the best team (other than D.C. United) triumph.

Ralph Culver is many things, including a poet and critic, an employee of the State of Vermont's Agency of Human Services, a father to four collegiate and scholastic varsity soccer players, a United States Soccer Federation-licensed Grade 8 referee -- and a guy who makes a round-trip drive of five-hundred miles from his home in Burlington, Vt., to Foxboro Stadium at least six times each MLS season to watch the Revolution. He can be e-mailed at ReCulver@aol.com.

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