I want to know why Jorge Rodas quit the Clash and if you think was a smart move to let him go? Are there any chances that another Guatemalan player will be a part of the MLS? Thank you for printing my question -- it's really a great way of getting some answers.
Ridge Mahoney: Rodas is leaving the Clash by mutual consent. Personally I don't think Rodas was worth the money the league was paying him, although he did have a few good games and has a great long-range shot. The league has been looking at a couple of other Guatemalan players (in addition to Martin Machon, who will play for L.A.), and they are somewhat attractive now that they won't be missing MLS games because of World Cup qualifying.
Bound Brook, N.J.
A while back, you had a blurb about a video game being produced with MLS teams. Is this still going forward?
Ridge Mahoney: It IS being produced, and the league hopes to have it released in July. We'll have more information as it becomes available.
Do you think that Ajax Amsterdam has any chance to win the Champions League this year?
Duncan Irving: A chance but not a great one. The team is usually plundered by the richer European clubs and post-Bosman, it's been hit harder than most (Patrick Kluivert and Winston Bogarde will leave for AC Milan at the end of the season). There have been a number of key injuries and the younger players aren't developing at a fast enough rate to replace the injured ones or the departed stars (Edgar Davids, Finidi, Nwankwo Kanu, Michael Reiziger and Clarence Seedorf were all young stars to start with and they've all gone).
Second, teams tend to wise up to your tactics after a while, and Ajax has done a pretty good job of marketing its coaching theories and strategies to the rest of the soccer world.
Third, Louis Van Gaal's job was done at the end of last year and he's marking time before a big European move -- the smart money is on him going to Barcelona or Bayern Munich this summer. Morten Olsen will have a very tough time trying to measure Van Gaal's achievements and I don't see him doing it.
None of which -- combined with the club's league form -- bodes well for this year's tourney, but in the club's defense, it's still a fairly open field.
Do you think that soccer is becoming more of a contact sport than ever before (or is it just that soccer outside of the U.S. appears, and may be, more violent)? After watching one the U.S.-Guatemala qualifiers with so many gratuitous fouls that were not called that warranted a sending off, I wondered why CONCACAF or FIFA or some governing body didn't make retroactive rulings like the commissioners of the NBA, NFL, NHL, and MLB. Do you think this is a crazy idea or does it have merit?
Ridge Mahoney: The U.S.-Guatemala match was an aberration, and much of the trouble resulted from poor refereeing. That referee won't be working such a game in the near future, and FIFA has been taking steps in recent years to cut down on vicious fouls.
As an official and a fan, my mind has boggled recently over how poor top-level refereeing is/has become. You have to wonder if these guys are clear on the rules, and if they've got the stones to just do what's right, particularly with respect to cardable infractions. What are your thoughts?
Duncan Irving: I don't think you can solely blame the officials; just as much has to do with the players' on-field conduct, which has quite definitely deteriorated over the years. Pronouncements and outbursts by coaches and club presidents -- it's so much easier to blame a crappy referee than your staff -- and exhaustive TV replays all make us focus on the referee's job a lot more than we have in the past.
Are some refs clear on the laws? I'd say no, but neither are all the biggies nor the players. If they are clear on the rules, then they're easily intimidated out of making the bold decisions. It takes a group effort, starting with the players.
Additionally, one of the key factors in creating good referees is experience. FIFA retires its officials when they reach 45 (they had wanted to lower it to 40), which is too young to pension them off.
Are there more than two Caribbean soccer players in the MLS? I am only aware of Brian Haynes (Dallas Burn) and Evans Wise (Tampa Bay Mutiny). If these are the only two, do you not believe that MLS can absorb a few more? U.S. National Team coaches and coaches around the world have often commented on the talent and skill of Caribbean soccer players. Why then is Sunil Gulati neglecting players from that side of the universe. Some of these players have and continue to make their mark on the soccer world. In Europe players like Russell Latapy (Portugal), Dwight Yorke (England) and John Barnes (England) have played a significant role in their team's successes. Talent abounds in this region of the world. For the past 50 years this region has been the U.S.'s most serious opponents at international competitions. They have therefore contributed to the overall development of soccer here. Why then are they not given the opportunity to showcase their enormous talent and earn an honest dollar in North America's top soccer league?
Ridge Mahoney: The league signs the players, but the coaches pick them. Keep in mind Caribbean players also count as foreigners unless they hold a green card. Jamaican Wolde Harris just joined the Colorado Rapids, and Ezra Hendrickson (who is a U.S. citizen but plays for the national team of St. Vincent & the Grenadines) is now with the MetroStars after being selected in the supplemental draft. The current Jamaican team, several of which played in the A-League last year, is probably the strongest that island nation has ever fielded, and there were a lot of good Caribbean players at the NCAA Division I final four, so I wouldn't be surprised to see more such players joining MLS.
However, your assertion that Caribbean teams have been the most serious U.S. opponents is flat-out wrong. In full internationals, T&T has beaten the U.S. exactly once in 13 meetings, and Jamaica has never beaten the U.S. in eight games going into the March 2 qualifier in Kingston. And the fact that there are Caribbean players in MLS negates your statement that the league is ignoring them. The league also considers fan appeal, and aside from New York, Caribbean populations in MLS cities are scarce.
Did Desmond Armstrong play with the Charlotte team in the USISL last summer? If so, is there a chance for Des to see some MLS action this year?
Ridge Mahoney: Yes, he played last year, but I don't know if he's playing this year. An MLS club could request him if it wanted his services, so there's a very slim chance he could play in MLS.
Red Bank, N.J.
I have been thinking about Project-40, the program which will offer pro-contracts to the top 30 players who are 18 and 19 years old (they will be chosen out of 40 of the top 18 and 19-year-olds). A recent Sports Illustrated short article mentioned that some opponents argue that those who do take the contracts (and thus give up college eligibility) might not be able to make it as good pro players. I also read that supporters say that the top players who fit the criteria for Project-40 and are currently playing in college are not good enough for Project-40. Does the NCAA have a say in all this? Also, isn't Project-40 bad in the long run because a prospective player has to give up not only the chance to play in college, but also a college education, which is also important?
Mike Woitalla: Seeing as the NCAA has never shown any sign of caring much about the young college soccer player, I see no reason why anyone would care what the NCAA thinks about Project-40.
Project-40 is long overdue, because the U.S. system has forced young soccer players who want to be recognized to play college soccer.
The argument, from college coaches, about Project-40 keeping kids from getting an education is a bunch of horse manure. Let's start asking coaches how many of their players were cut and dropped out of college. Maybe we should start asking college coaches how many players they've promised starting spots, then didn't deliver. Or how many college players lost their scholarships when they didn't play as well as the coached hoped.
College soccer coaches should be concerned about players who want to get a four-year degree, not players who want to find a different avenue to the pros.
Do you know that about 75 percent of Americans don't get four-year college degrees? Did you know that when the U.S. national team lines up, only about one or two of the starters have four-year degrees?
I think most of us believe a four-year degree is very important and I would encourage every child to strive for a college degree. But the fact is, it shouldn't be a requisite to becoming a pro soccer player.
Will we hear hard-luck stories about Project-40 flops who should have gone to college? Yes, we will. But that won't be soccer's fault. College soccer is not something that saves kids. It is an opportunity for young men who want to study and play college ball. You don't see many college soccer coaches work diligently to bring non-academically inclined boys onto their campuses, as many college basketball coaches do. College coaches, on the whole, ignore players who they can't slide into school. And, in general, they ignore minority youths. (This year's Division I finalists were an exception.)
MLS will be offering to pay for Project-40 players' education. Maybe that's window dressing. But it's all part of an option that young men and their parents will consider. They know the risks.
Many of the young players considered for the first round of Project 40 don't go to college now -- at least eight U.S. U-20 players opted not to go to college even before they heard of Project-40.
Some whom I talked to said they hated school and were only there to play college soccer. I hope that non-academically inclined soccer players realize they will need some kind of technical job training to get jobs outside of soccer. As long as MLS is honest about the risks, the pay, and the educational opportunities it is offering, it is doing the right thing.
Jose Luis Bartual
I'd like to know what U.S. Soccer/MLS is doing in terms of a youth system? In my opinion, ODP just isn't cutting it, and there isn't much talent coming out of colleges. We all know that a good youth system is the key to having a successful first division football league, as well as having a better national team than the one we already have. I'd like to know if there are any plans on the works, to come up with a system like in South America, where talented kids are trained from young ages, and are already playing pro at 17 or 18.
Paul Kennedy: MLS has a hard enough time supporting its start-up operation with 20 players per team to think about adding a youth system. Project-40 is a start. Over time, MLS's success will speed the development of the top youth players being identified and pursued by pro clubs. The USISL is adding a "Y" league this summer (See the Youth Soccer Letter in the March 3 issue of Soccer America.) As long as college soccer is big, the pro involvement in the youth game will be at a minimum due to NCAA regulations restricting affiliation with professional clubs.
Siloam Springs, Ark.
I'm surprised to hear MLS gives SA and hard-core soccer fans a cold shoulder. I'm concerned about the future of the league and those who run it. However, I have noticed that most of the soccer press has focused on the negative aspects of MLS since day one. For a change, I'd like to hear some things that MLS has done right. That is, if they've done anything positive at all. Can you think of anything?
Ridge Mahoney: Most of what the league has done so far is positive! Surviving the first season, drawing good crowds, offering up an entertaining if somewhat ragged style of play, and staging dramatic playoffs and a memorable final are just a few of their accomplishments. In fact, in light of pro soccer's past disasters in this country, Year One of MLS was a remarkable achievement. I think most of the soccer press has been positive, but most mainstream sports publications and broadcasting systems are still skeptical, if not hostile. Convincing those people will take continued success, and more time.