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Complete archive of Robert Wagman's It Seems to Me.

It Seems To Me . . .

The best six MLS rumors.

By Robert Wagman

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Tuesday, February 16, 1999) -- The Major League Soccer rumor mill seems to be working overtime these days. In the last week or so I have been flooded by e-mails asking whether this rumor or that rumor is true. So I thought I would collect a sort of "best of . . . " these rumors and tell you what I have heard and what I think.

Rumor 1 - Claudio Reyna is heading back to MLS, probably to the MetroStars.

The truth is Reyna is unhappy at Vfl Wolfsburg and Wolfsburg is unhappy with Claudio. It is also true that Reyna probably does not have much of a future in the Bundesliga. But does this mean that Reyna is headed back to American shores? Probably not.

I hear that Reyna is working hard to be let out of his contract at Wolfsburg. Where does he want to head next? I hear he is headed south, to Portugal. Reyna is of Portuguese decent, and I understand that he has received a very lucrative offer, maybe more than one, to play next season in Portugalís Division 1. One problem is that his Wolfsburg contract has additional years to run. If Wolfsburg asks a stiff transfer fee a deal might not be possible, but if Reyna is let out of the contract and he becomes a free transfer, then a deal would be likely.

When I asked him in Jacksonville if he might be headed for Portugal next season, Reyna would only smile and offer a "no comment." But he did add "I have spent time in Portugal and itís a wonderful place."

Rumor 2 - Jovan Kirovski is headed home to MLS.

Almost a definite no, at least not for many years. Jovan finally seems happy, or at least happier, with his situation in Germany. He was not happy sitting on the bench at Dortmund. Since being loaned this season to second division Fortuna Cologne, Kirovski is playing regularly and playing much better. Still only 22, Kirovski appears to want to stay with Cologne for perhaps another season and then move back up to the Bundesliga, or move back up with Cologne which is a possibility. Someday he might return to MLS, but he hopes not for very many years.

Rumor 3 - Brad Friedel is headed back to MLS.

Regretfully, this one may well be true. Friedel is sitting on Liverpoolís bench. So far this season he has played in seven matches and has a 3-2-2 record with a very adequate 1.29 goals-against average. But starting Liverpool keeper David James has, as they say over there, "returned to form" and Friedel has been relegated to a reserve role.

Being a back up to one of the premiere goalkeepers in the Premiership is not all that bad, and it pays much better than say, starting in Columbus. But Friedelís problem is the arcane rules surrounding the critical British work permit. For a foreign, non-European Union passport-carrying, player to get a work permit, he must have played in a high percentage of his nationís national team matches the preceding two years. To retain the permit, he must play in 70 percent of his new British teamís matches.

Friedel is well liked at Liverpool. He could certainly stay with the club, or likely find a starters role with another Premiership club. But the question is whether he can retain his work permit. If he does not, then he could well return home.

Rumor 4 - John Harkes is going to stay in England.

John wants to stay in England with Nottingham Forest, but donít bet on it. Forestís deal with MLS is that have until March 15, and not a day longer, to exercise an option to buy Harkesí MLS contract for a transfer fee of about $400,000. My sources tell me that Forest has told MLS that it will definitely not exercise the option if the team is going to be relegated to the First Division. Right now Forest is in last place in the table with only 16 points, the result of a 3-15-7 season. It is nine points behind Coventry City and Everton who themselves are holding a point clear of relegation territory. If Forest is to work a miracle, it is going to have to happen over the next three matches. If it can beat Chelsea at home next weekend, and then Charlton away and get a point from Newcastle, it might have a chance.

Forestís quandary as regards Harkes will come if it does manage, say, 7 points in its next three matches. Then it might be in a position to avoid relegation. Given the March 15 deadline, what does it do?

It should also be noted that while Harkes has started the last three matches for Forest, he has been a part of a very porous defense and was substituted for in the 67th minute in last Saturdayís loss to West Ham. If I were a betting man I would say you will see Harkes in Foxboro come the Revolutionís home opener.

Rumor 5 - The MetroStars are going to get (here insert the name of some major international star).

Frankly, who knows. In the MetroStars house cleaning, coach Bora Milutinovic has opened two roster spots for foreign acquisitions. We are promised that they will be household names with enough star power to draw the multitudes to Giants Stadium. Well, pre-season training has begun, and they have not showed up yet. The most likely two names you hear are MLS problem children Jorge Campos and Eric Wynalda. Both these moves make some degree of sense. Campos has played for Bora before and they seem to respect each other. If Wynalda regains his touch in his stay at Leon he could help the MetroStars. But at least one or possibly two other players will have to be coming. Who? Donít ask me.

Rumor 6 - MLS will expand next season to Philadelphia and Houston.

Well, MLS would like to put franchises in these two cities, thatís for sure. But when that will happen depends on finding a deep-pocket owner for Houston and a stadium in Philadelphia. If both are found by the 2000 season, expansion might well happen. If not, it will by say 2002. Personally, I think the next two moves in MLS will revolve around some of the Leagueís underachieving franchises: Dallas, Tampa Bay and Kansas City. Again this is my own opinion, but if attendance does not pick way up I could see Dallas heading south to Houston next year and Tampa maybe moving up the road to Orlando as the Magic Kingdomís team-in-residence. Another possibility would be Tampa to San Diego where MLS thinks it could do very well with a team with four big-name Latin players.

Robert Wagman wrote a nationally syndicated political column for Scripps-Howard for many years. At the same time he has covered soccer in North America for British and South African newspapers since the days of the North American Soccer League. His "Football In America" column now appears regularly in British newspapers. He can be e-mailed at MobileWag@aol.com.

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