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It Seems To Me . . .

Winning not exactly a requirement to be hired as an MLS coach; plus additional league tales.

By Robert Wagman

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Thursday, December 2, 1999) -- So let me see if I understand this. Two of the most underachieving teams in Major League Soccer needed new coaches. So they obviously looked for coaches with winning records, coming from successful programs, to help them rebuild.

Well, not exactly.

Let's start in the New Jersey Meadowlands first. As expected, MetroStars, general manager Charlie Stillitano introduced Octavio Zambrano, as the club's sixth head coach in four years. Seeking -- some would say desperately -- to accentuate the positive, Stillitano and MLS stressed that Zambrano "was most recently coach at Los Angeles Galaxy, where he compiled a league record of 39-18 record between 1997 and 1999. His .684 winning percentage as a head coach is the highest in MLS history."

Left out of that statement is the fact that last season Zambrano was canned by the Los Angeles Galaxy for making a complete hash of the start of the season; and that the man who replaced him, Sigi Schmid, was made MLS "Coach of the Year" for undoing the mess Zambrano had left.

The word on Zambrano is that he has some difficulties dealing with temperamental and difficult players. That should mean he will be a perfect fit in New York.

Meanwhile in Foxborough, Mass., the Revolution gave the building assignment to an assistant coach from the only team in the league worst then the Revs were, someone who had just been passed over from becoming that team's head coach, where management thought him unqualified.

Kraft Soccer's new operating head, Sunil Gulati, has turned the reins of the Revs over to Fernando Clavijo, the MetroStars former assistant who tried hard to win a promotion to top man in the Meadowlands. "After an extensive search, Fernando proved to be the most talented and qualified person to lead the Revolution," Gulati said in making the announcement.

I shall officially withhold any comment. Maybe come next October 15, when the MetroStars are facing the Revolution in MLS Cup 2000 -- it could happen under the new system -- we'll all say Sunil and Charlie got it right. But for now, neither appointment seems to have wowed the fans of either team.

I understand in Boston, the Friday before MLS Cup was played, the press release had already been written and widely leaked -- announcing that MLS was going to a 28-match season in 2000, and that MLS Cup would be played on October 1. But in the meeting just a couple of hours before commissioner Don Garber's press conference where the schedule was to be released, the MLS board of directors reversed itself and agreed to table the change for at least another season.

The only owner in the room who was for continuing the 32-game schedule was said to be Columbus Crew (and Kansas City Wizards) owner-investor Lamar Hunt. Apparently, the other owners didn't want to buck Hunt and the 32-game season lived on.

Hunt owns the new Columbus Crew stadium, and also the Kansas City Chief's stadium in the Wizards play. As such he pockets the rent the league effectively pays to use the stadiums, as well as the ancillary income from parking and concessions. Reportedly, he did not want to lose the income.

The biggest disappointment about this year's MLS Cup in Foxboro was the dreadful condition of the playing field. It was chopped up from a half a season of National Football League play, including a Monday night game just six days earlier. Now the league looks like it is going to open itself to the same criticism next year.

The change from 28 games, back to 32, effectively added two weeks to the schedule, pushing the title game back from October 1 to October 15. For various reasons MLS is trying to hold the game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Some cynics say the push for Tampa is an attempt to get the Glazer family, which owns the NFL Bucs, to acquire the Mutiny, which is still owned by the league.

But not only do the Bucs play football at Raymond James, but so does the University of South Florida. In fact, USF has a game scheduled for the night of October 14. Not to worry, say Raymond James officials, they can convert the stadium from football to soccer by Sunday afternoon, if they work all night. So come next year we may again get an MLS Cup field where the football lines are painted over with green paint, and the playing surface is more geared for grazing cows than for playing a flowing game of soccer..

If you believe the English papers, the bad boy of British soccer, Paul Gascoigne, is Florida- and MLS-bound.

According to a rash of stories in the past 48 hours, "Gazza" is unhappy sitting on the bench at Middlesbrough, and is only hours away from signing with MLS to play in Tampa. As wonderful as contemplating watching the admittedly often dysfunctional Gazza playing next to the sometimes dysfunctional Roy Lassiter might be, it appears the stories are false.

"It is absolute rubbish. We have had no approaches whatsoever from MLS, nor, as far as we are aware, have Middlesbrough Football Club," Mel Stein, Gascoigne's agent and advisor, said.

Middlesbrough agrees. "Paul is under contract until the end of next season. He is a Middlesbrough player, and will remain a Middlesbrough player. We have had no contact with any American club, or any other about Paul," said club spokesman Dave Allen.

The "When Will Lothar Leave?" story has become a daily staple of the German sports media. The latest installments have star defender Lothar Matthaeus now convinced he should not leave Bayern Munich until after the full Bundesliga season, and not join the MetroStars until after the Euro 2000 tournament ends in June.

The latest voice to be heard is that of Berti Vogts, former Germany national team player and coach, and a Matthaeus friend and advisor. "Matthaeus plays for a leading European side," Vogts told weekly Sport Bild. "He should stay where he is and then, in the summer, end his career at the age of 39. Bayern is where Matthaeus belongs, like it was for a Franz Beckenbauer or a Karl-Heinz Rummenigge."

Apparently Vogts equates playing in MLS with retirement.

Stories last week had Matthaeus convinced he was needed through the end of the Bundesliga season and about to open talks with the MetroStars to delay his arrival until July.

Robert Wagman’s "It Seems To Me . . ." column appears weekly on SoccerTimes. He can be e-mailed at

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