Why is MLS so anxious to expand so soon when: 1) Two franchises are REALLY struggling at the gate, and 2) The depth chart of every team gets a little shaky at the 11th or 12th man? Even with an extra foreigner next year, we still need some better Americans. How do they plan to swing it?
Ridge Mahoney: 1) Money. More teams increases the league's value to sponsors and TV companies, and also creates pressure for those teams struggling at the gate to improve or risk losing their team to another city. Despite the problems in Tampa and Denver, the league is fielding numerous inquiries from potential investors. Remember, we're talking about an extremely risky business venture: pro soccer in the United States, an idea ridiculed and abused for decades!
2) You just answered your own question. With more teams, there are more spots for Americans and thus more opportunities for younger players to get playing time and thus improve. And if they don't, teams will jettison them and find someone else.
Each team started from zero this year; with a year's experience, an additional foreign player on the way, and dozens of A-League players ending their contracts this year, teams will have plenty of chances to upgrade and refine their rosters for next season and in 1998.
At the beginning of the season, MLS officials were telling anyone who would listen that they expected 10-12,000 per game and that they also expected to lose money the first year or so. With attendance above expectations for the first part of the season, how much of this has changed? Is there a chance MLS could make money (which would be good for advertisers/sponsors and teams alike) this year? Also, how much of an impact do you think the NFL season and MLB playoffs will have on attendance?
RM: The league won't make money this year or next, although some teams will show a paper "profit" by bringing in sufficient revenues to cover operation expenses. The operator-investors have spent nearly $10 million each (including their initial investments) to join the league, fund league operations, and run their own teams, and can't expect to break even until they can rake in a lot more money from sponsorships, licensing, and television, or sell off their interests at a high price.
The NFL and MLB will lessen MLS coverage in newspapers and on television, which might cut into attendance somewhat. But the teams should be able to counteract that by drawing a bigger percentage of soccer fans with their own playoff battles coming up. If they don't, those encouraging attendance figures will look less rosy.
I am enjoying the MLS on T.V. When the league first started, the level of play was really scrappy and not very enjoyable to watch. Recently I have watched several games and the play has been much more together. I love to watch the great international teams play...it is really a thrill to see teams like Brazil and England play. Do you think the U.S. team could try to get more exhibition games to play against the great teams of Europe? It seems if more people could see the skill and expertise of these teams it would only help to generate more interest in U.S. leagues.
RM: Teams scrambled to get through this first season, which hindered their efforts to organize and promote international games. I expect a couple of teams to take international tours during the offseason, and cut deals to bring foreign teams to the U.S. next year. But they will most likely play club teams, not national teams. Don't be surprised if AC Milan comes over next year to play an MLS team or two, and I know Tampa would like to play Feyenoord again or another top Dutch team. National teams will likely come here to play the U.S. national team in the U.S. Cup next January.
High Wycombe, England
I found your site through querying "Bigger goals." As a longtime football (sorry, soccer) fan, I am convinced that making the goals bigger is necessary to restore the balance of the game back in favour of strikers. (Why not see my web page: http://www.demon.co.uk/ctsuk?) This is how the game was originally intended. I get the feeling Soccer America is against the idea. Is this so? If so, why? The best hope to make the goals bigger as far as I can see is if newer associations push for it. You guys shouldn't see it as some radical new initiative but a re-alignment of the game's dimensions to what it was originally intended. Good luck anyway.
RM: The game was originally intended to be just that: a game. Now soccer is a sport and a business, which certainly has infused elements of caution never foreseen back in the 1860's. Teams certainly field more defenders now than they used to, but enlarging the goals could make teams even more defensive for fear of giving up more shots.
I don't know what you mean by "restoring the balance of the game back in favor of the strikers." The game has evolved in fits and spurts; the first international friendly, England-Scotland, was a 0-0 tie, and in the first FA Cup, Wanderers beat the Royal Engineers, 1-0.
If anything, the game has grown more attack-oriented since the 1990 World Cup.
But every sport has evolved. The forward pass didn't arrive in American football until early in this century, baseball has added the designated hitter, and basketball has adopted the three-point shot. The off-side rule was changed in 1925, reducing the number of defenders that had to be behind an attacker from three to two, and goalscoring increased markedly.
I think FIFA's changes in recent years -- restriction of the back pass, relaxed interpretations of offside, implementing three points for a win, harsher penalties for deliberate fouls -- has done much to open up the game. I believe a goal 24 feet wide and eight feet high is sufficiently large; that's my opinion. Goalscoring should be somewhat difficult; a test of skill, accuracy and nerve. Not impossible, but not a piece of cake, either.
The European Championships were a bit dreary, true, but I think making the goals bigger is a prelude to chaos. Who decides how big, and who decides if that is big enough? Does the Italian federation carry more clout than the English association as to how many goals scored into a bigger goal is enough?
My answer is for referees to crack down on deliberate fouling (and diving, as well!) to improve scoring chances. I wouldn't mind a bonus point in the standings being awarded for scoring a certain number of goals in a game, say three. Enlarging the goals should be a last resort, and I don't see the problem as yet to be serious enough to take that drastic action.
What has happened to the national team's defense? In the '94 World Cup it was very impressive, but, since then, especially in the olympics, it seemed to disappear. To do any better in '98 they are going to need a solid D. Who are the possible prospects to replace Alexi and Marcelo?
Mike Woitalla: The national team under Steve Sampson -- and the Olympic team under Bruce Arena -- is much more attack- minded than the 1994 World Cup team (Thank Heaven!). That means it is willing to give up goals, knowing (or hoping) it will score more. A number of comeback victories by Sampson's teams attest that this attitude is working. It is certainly more exciting than the Bora Milutninovic style, which basically dedicated six players solely to defensive duties. (That's why his defense looked good.)
I saw the U.S. lose 3-1 to a powerful Argentina team at the Olympics. It was a much more pleasing performance than the 1-0 World Cup lose to Brazil, during which the U.S. did not once test the opponent's goalkeeper.
Sampson's main concern on defense is its speed, or lack thereof. An attacking team must have players who can move back quickly. I'd look for Olympians Eddie Pope and Frankie Hejduk to work their way into Sampson's team soon.
La Canada, Calif.
I heard a rumor that the U-20 World Cup tournament has expanded adding additional teams, including the US. When will we be reading about what is happening with the Mens U-20s?
Pete Bailey: FIFA has expanded the U-20 World Cup to 24 teams, so the U.S. U-20 team did qualify with their third place finish at the CONCACAF tournament in Mexico. We covered the U-20s progress during qualifying and will continue to do so during the U-20 World Championship.
What is your opinion (pro and con) on the 1999 Women's World Cup being held in one time zone, in one geographic area of the U.S.?
Dean Caparaz: I would like to see matches of the Women's World Championship played all around the country, but I understand why FIFA wants U.S. Soccer to hold USA '99 in one time zone -- the East Coast. FIFA wants to keep costs low and keep travel to a minimum. It makes sense to have the tournament, then, on the East Coast, where the Olympics showed that women's soccer can draw large crowds. Sites such as RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., the Orange Bowl in Miami, and the Citrus Bowl in Orlando should have decent-sized crowds, at least ones larger than what the stadiums in Sweden drew during the World Championship in 1995.
On the con side, people in the West get the proverbial shaft, again. World Cup games would draw okay here, perhaps not as well as back East. But then one cannot really judge because a major U.S. women's game has not been set in the West for some time, if ever.
There is definitely interest in the sport here. This region produces some of the top talent in the country and in the world for that matter. Santa Clara, Portland and Stanford are among the nation's best college teams. Santa Clara is hosting the NCAA final four this fall and has sold out about 8,000 seats. Half of the gold-medal winning U.S. Olympic team -- Joy Fawcett, Julie Foudy, Tiffany Roberts, Tisha Venturini, Brandi Chastain, Shannon MacMillan, Tiffeny Milbrett, and Mary Harvey -- hail from the West Coast.
What is good soccer cross-training for the off-season?
Poul Swain: Living in California, you don't need to have an off-season. It's possible to play year round. Even during the rainy season you can find indoor facilities to play in. Otherwise running, biking, roller blading, swimming and similar activities are good for staying in shape.
What is a Brazilian bender? When did it originate?
PB: A "Brazilian bender" is a free kick that swerves around the outside of the wall. SA columnist Paul Gardner recalls that such kicks (as well as ones that go over the wall and then dip) were called "banana kicks" at the 1958 world cup. Sweden '58 was the first triumph for Brazil, as well as the first championship to be widely televised, so the term might have originated then -- after all, many fans were in awe of the skills of the great Garrincha and the young Pele.
Kansas City, Mo.
Next summer my dad and I are going to Italy. My dad wanted to find a soccer camp for me to go to. Where can I find some information on Italian soccer camps?
Dan Woog: Try contacting
Federaziano Italiano Giuoco Calcio
Via Gergorio Allegri 14
CP 2450 1-00198 Roma
I have just been named coach at a high school where soccer is not a sport traditionally played by its students. My team will be thrown in with schools with strong programs and players who have played since their preteens. I am given only three weeks of training before the season's start. I plan on scheduling the region games for later on in the season. Given that the majority of my players will just be learning to trap and pass, can you give me any advice on things I might concentrate on up to the region schedule so that my players will not get completely stomped and lose their interest in the game?
DW: You should concentrate on helping players get comfortable with the ball, and with working together. You'll be better off doing that -- having them play lots of keepaway-type games, and small-sided soccer -- than by doing "drills." You should aim to have a team that works well together, rather than competes on individual skills. You want the sum to be greater than its parts.