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Direct Kick: Well supported MLS holds key to U.S. future
December 27th, 1999 12AM

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1999 ends with a well-attended MLS Cup and the name change of an MLS team close to home for Clay Berling, who founded Soccer America Magazine in 1971.

You must be feeling a bit of déjà vu - there's a team called the Earthquakes again. ...

In the NASL days, I attended about 80 percent of the San Jose Earthquakes games, driving 50 miles to get there.

In their first year, 1974, the Earthquakes averaged 15,000. How did they manage that?

Their general manager, Dick Berg, was a master at making entertainment. He had red lights on the goalposts, Crazy George and cheerleaders. But most importantly, he created player-fan interaction.

Players signed autographs on the field. The kids loved getting so close to players. It created a fan base.

So what do you think about the Clash changing its name to the Earthquakes?

They should have retained the Earthquake name from the beginning because it had some relationship to the area.

At this point, calling them the Earthquakes is probably somewhat useful, but fielding a team that wins more of its games in regulation would also go far.

You saw NASL through glory years and then in its demise. What major difference do you see between the NASL and MLS?

MLS is the best thing that ever happened to American talent and it shows in every way. (France '98 was a personality problem, not a skill problem.) If U.S. soccer fans want to see this country produce the best soccer it can, then they had better support MLS.

If every fan went to two games a year, MLS would be a fantastic success and our players would see the World Cup in their hands in 2010. If they don't support MLS through thick and thin, then they will ensure that soccer will fade again and our children will certainly be the losers.

What was following the national team like during the NASL years?

Very difficult. Very depressing. The U.S. was always on the short end. We're doing wonderful things these years compared to the past.

MLS is a training ground for the national team players. Combined with Americans playing in Europe, we're really building.

What was your impression from MLS Cup?

Any time 45,000 people go to a game at a neutral site it demonstrates how strong the soccer community is.

What can we take from the U-17s' fourth-place performance at the world championship?

It was great. It bodes well for the MLS.

I am concerned that too many of these players will go to Europe and see limited playing time. It would be better for MLS to sign them and loan them out for the experience.

Americans want to see their boys play here. Our fan base wants home talent. Local boy makes good is a slogan that everyone buys into.

by Soccer America founder Clay Berling



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