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At $700,000, Azizi would be a bargain for the Galaxy, MLS.

By Robert Wagman

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Thursday, August 27, 2000) -- When the United States tied Iran in the Rose Bowl earlier this month, Iranian striker Khodadad Azizi was clearly the best player on the field for either team. He was also the player whose name was on the lips of most of the 40,000-plus Iranian-Americans in the stands.

This adoration was not lost on Azizi, nor the fact that there are some 600,000 "Persians" living in Southern California. For a player who is an Iranian national hero, at least with fans if not his government, Azizi was reportedly quick to realize the promotional potential of a spell with the Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy.

Right now, Azizi is looking for a place to play soccer this season. He currently plays for F.C Cologne in Germany. But his contract is up and so he is becoming soccer's version of a free agent -- a free transfer.

During the match with the U.S. , word was circulating that an Iranian lawyer in Los Angeles had been empowered to try to work a deal for Azizi with MLS. Reports were he is willing to come to Los Angeles on a two- or three-year deal if MLS can match, or almost match, offers he is currently considering from a club in Turkey and two clubs in England.

The amount he has been offered is said to be $700,000 annually. This would seem to be a no-brainer for MLS. If the crowd at the Iran-U.S. match is any indication, the Galaxy might be able to sell 10,000 new season tickets with Azizi in the lineup. In other words, MLS could recoup its investment immediately.

But there are complications in Los Angeles. Right now there is no roster spot for another foreign player on the Galaxy, nor is there room under the salary cap for another maximum salary player. However, it now seems virtually certain that forward Carlos Hermosillo will not be returning to the Galaxy next season from Mexico.

If he does not, that would both open a foreign player slot and salary cap room. But looking at the demographics of the Galaxy's fan base, having to replace Hermosillo with another Mexican player would seem a given. Finding another Mexican player of Hermosillo's stature will come at considerable cost to MLS. So back to the problem of salary cap and foreign player spot.

Part of that problem may be answered in the next few weeks, if midfielder Mauricio Cienfuegos gains his U.S. citizenship. If and when he does, it would open one of L.A.'s foreign slots. That would leave only the salary cap problem, which in the Galaxy's case is further exacerbated by the ongoing contract negotiations with goalkeeper Kevin Hartman, the league's leading goalkeeper last season who was playing for almost minimum wages.

He is reportedly asking what would amount to the biggest pay raise in MLS' brief history. So this is a complicated situation and one which must be resolved quickly. Azizi's offers in England and Turkey are on the table for only a short while more.

Cherundolo to MetroStars?

For the last several months an interesting rumor has been circulating in MLS circles. It seems that the MetroStars new savior, defender Lothar Matthaeus has become enamored with the play and potential of young American defender Steve Cherundolo, who is now playing for Hannover 96 in the German second division. Reportedly, one reason Matthaeus was so upset at the reassignment of former MetroStars' general manager Charlie Stillitano was his belief that the team, and MLS, would renege on a promise to do whatever it takes to bring Cherundolo to the New Jersey Meadowlands.

When new general manager Nick Sakiewicz flew to Spain to meet Matthaeus and insure his arrival in New Jersey, he is said to have renewed the Cherundolo promise. When Cherundolo was in California for the national team camp earlier this month, he was noncommittal about whether he might be coming to MLS.

"There are some talks going on, but I don't know if it will happen," he said.

Reportedly the problem was a combination of Hannover not wanting to give up a fine young prospect, or at least not wanting to give him up without a considerable sum changing hands, and MLS being unwilling to pay a transfer fee. Moreover, MLS would have difficulty meeting Cherundolo's salary demands.

Things have apparently worked themselves out. The German media is reporting that Hannover is going to loan Cherundolo to the MetroStars. Thus no transfer fee will be involved. To make this happen it is likely that Matthaeus got involved on the German end and got Hannover to become more agreeable.

Curcic is history

It is generally understood around the league that Serbian midfielder Sasa Curcic will not only not be returning to the MetroStars, but has become persona non grata around MLS as a whole. Various reasons are given from lack of performance last season to unspecified "personal problems."

Sakiewicz has denied published reports that the team has already waived Curcic, but did say confirm that he has asked MLS to attempt to sell him to a team in Europe. "We're having a difficult time seeing how Sasa is going to fit into our salary-cap picture and the overall picture of our starting 11," Sakiewicz reportedly said. "He makes a lot of money. Stylistically, right now we need goal scorers. He's more of a playmaking midfielder. We need guys who can put the ball in the back of the net."

Another league official put it more bluntly "Curcic is history as far as MLS is concerned."

Fire wants Balakov

As previously reported, MLS was involved in negotiations with Bulgarian midfielder Krassimir Balakov, who was instrumental in taking Vfb Stuttgart to the German Cup Winners Cup final in 1998. Although at age 34 he is near the end of his career, he is one of the more creative players in Germany and would likely be a star in MLS.

Now, we hear that his services are badly wanted by the Chicago Fire and the club is putting a great deal of pressure on MLS to get a deal done.

This raises two interesting thoughts. Even without Jerzy Podbrozny and Frank Klopas, does Chicago have salary cap room for another high-priced foreign player. Moreover, is there room in the Chicago midfield or, for that matter, in all of Chicago for both Balakov and Peter Nowak?

Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be e-mailed at

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