Complete archive of Robert Wagman's It Seems to Me.
It Seems To Me . . .
Ten early observations of MLS season.By Robert Wagman
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Thursday, April 6, 2000) -- The new Major League Soccer season is entering its fourth week. A number of you have written asking what I think about this or that. It's too early to draw many conclusions, but here are 10 things which have struck me, listed in no particular order.
Sigi Schmid -- Can anyone doubt he is either the best, or in a dead heat for best coach in the league honors? He has the Los Angeles Galaxy well organized and playing in top form right from the get-go.
He also might not be as crazy as some in the league thought. On draft day he pulled the trigger on perhaps the most inexplicable trade if not in league history, then since the Tampa Bay Mutiny sent Roy Lassiter to D.C. United for Roy Wegerle. Schmid traded one of the top three young American soccer players, DaMarcus Beasley, to the Chicago Fire for a handful of future draft choices.
At the time to give away a player of Beasley's potential made little sense. Now the explanation that Schmid expected Beasley to head for Europe sooner rather than later, and L.A. to be left with little or nothing to show for his stay makes more sense when coupled with the exceptional start of first-round draft choice Sasha Victorine.
Schmid figured there was simply no place in the Galaxy lineup for Beasley, and by the time there was, he would likely be long gone. Chalk one up for Sigi.
Sasha Victorine -- Speaking of the Los Angels rookie striker (and in my mind right now the odds-on choice for MLS "Rookie of the Year"), how can one possibly explain how he was left in the draft for Los Angeles to take with the 11th choice? Of the teams drafting ahead of Los Angeles, one can understand Colorado having to have a goalkeeper and choosing Adin Brown and the same might be said in Kansas City needing a defender and taking Nick Garcia.
But look at the rest of the first round. The only answer is that Victorine is another situation like Chris Albright was last year. He either plays for the MLS team he wants, or he heads abroad. How else can it be explained Los Angeles drafting in the sixth spot and taking defender Dan Califf and then waiting five more choices to draft Victorine. Ask the young man if he would have played for another MLS team and he gives a noncommittal, "I'm glad I didn't have to make that decision."
D.C. United -- Many D.C. United fans might cringe at the thought, but so far it seems clear the club misses the two players it had to dump for salary cap reasons -- Roy Lassiter and defender Diego Sonora.
At times, United can look out-of-sync without Marco Etcheverry in the lineup, and that has been true in the first two matches. But Lassiter would likely have had a couple of goals given the chances created, but not finished by United forwards against the MetroStars in Saturdayís 3-2 loss.
United's big problem has been in one-on-one defending. Carey Talley has had two miserable matches trying to replace the steady Sonora. Now it turns out he has been playing with a deep bone bruise in his foot while Eddie Pope has been playing with a slow-to-heal thigh injury.
United needs to get back on track quickly, or it is going to be a very long season.
Kansas City Wizards - After the United States match against Tunisia, national-team goalkeeper Tony Meola sat in an airport lounge waiting for a plane trying to convince a group of soccer reporters that his Wizards were much improved over last season and would be a contender this season. His pronouncements were met with a degree of skepticism and good-natured kidding.
But guess what, he may be absolutely correct. Right now the woeful Wizards look like the most improved team in the league. While that might not be saying much, seeing how woeful they were last season, they now look like a team that is organized, that is solid on defense and a team which can score goals.
Meola said, "You will be surprised how good (new Danish striker Miklos) Molonar is." Having seen him play last year in Europe at a rather poor level, I am surprised. He could score 20 goals this year. If he does, K.C. will be a playoff team.
Attendance -- Speaking of Kansas City, owner Lamas Hunt might be happy to rent out his empty stadium 16 or 18 times a year to MLS and not really care if anyone shows up to sit in the seats, but the league has a real problem in both Kansas City and in Fort Lauderdale, where the Miami Fusion plays.
It's simply not working. If the appearance of Lothar Matthaeus in his MLS debut is only able to increase attendance by 1,500 to 10,482 from the miserable opening day crowd a week earlier, then the league has to admit it is too far from its fan base playing in north Fort Lauderdale.
As for Kansas City, they were outdrawn on opening day by the indoor team. There are places in the U.S. that will support soccer. MLS should be looking harder.
Officiating -- I won't spend too much time on this one, but the level of officiating in MLS does not seem to have improved much over last year. And it's more than Ali Saheli's incomprehensible decision to leave Robert Warzycha in the match after swatting the ball off the Columbus Crew's goal line with his hand.
Many of the league's referee assistants look like they have not seen a soccer match since last October. But MLS's officials don't have any sort of lock on poor calls. I watched four Champions League quarterfinals and saw an awful number of missed calls and non-calls.
MetroStars -- What can be said. They are 1-1. They beat D.C. United in their home opener despite getting outplayed and out shot by an obscene amount. So far their million dollar baby, Matthaeus, has had some effect in directing play, but for a million dollars one would think they would get a dominant player.
Maybe when he learns his teammates names and stays around for a few days of practice things will improve. But the Metros still do not have a midfield.
Chicago Fire -- Poor, departed goalkeeper Greg Sutton canít shoulder all the blame. If there is a team in MLS which thinks it can win just by showing up, it is Chicago. That constantly got the Fire in trouble last season when it was the league's Jekyll and Hyde. One never knew who was going to show up, the league's champion or doormat.
So far, Chicago really misses defender Francis Okaroh. Like D.C. United, better days are ahead. But also like D.C., this is a team that is going to have to concentrate on its task at hand week in and week out.
Dallas Burn -- My nomination to replace the Fire as this year's Jekyll and Hyde. Which Burn team will show up, MLS Cup contender or an out of contention contingent?
I think Dave Dir may have the most difficult job facing any MLS coach this season, because the line between winner and loser seems thinner at Dallas than anywhere else.
Injuries -- Bad luck, or something else? There have been a rash of injuries around the league. Colorado has received the most publicity, but almost every team has lost highly-regarded starters in one or more early-season matches.
This could just be one of those things. Or maybe MLS is trying to do too much, too early. A number of MLS coaches have openly questioned the idea of the training camp tournament and then the foreign tours. By the time the season opened, many players felt as if they had already played half a season. MLS may want to carefully examine how it trains and starts the year in 2001.
As I said, these are only initial impressions. As the seasons develops, I well may change my mind of some or all
of the above. We'll see.
Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be
e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org..
Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be e-mailed at email@example.com..