Robert Weiss Grand Junction, Colo. What exactly does Paul Gardner mean when he repeatedly insists that "MLS needs a successful franchise in New York"? It seems to be an argument that MLS should rig the league to ensure that the MetroStars are one of the top teams! As a native New Yorker (and a Colorado Rapids supporter), I am well aware of the deluded arrogance of those who think the world ends somewhere around Montclair, N.J. But any argument that New York and Los Angeles NEED to be successful for MLS to have a future are bogus. Stillitano's mistakes last year and in the offseason do not mean the league should give them any extra consideration. Look at what Dan Counce has done in Colorado this offseason to see what an active general manager can do to improve an MLS team! For a "great soccer city," the Taxicabs' attendance represented less than 3% of the New York metro area's population of over 12 million. By comparison, even the Rapids' league-lowest attendance equaled 8% of the area population. Let's keep MLS fair, and remember that Green Bay's success hasn't exactly hurt the NFL. And that the Jets' and Mets' mediocrity hasn't destroyed their respective leagues just yet! Duncan Irving:Yeah, Paul's a New York snob -- you can't imagine the barrage of abuse the West Coast-based SA staff get on a daily basis, but he does have a point. Obviously, he doesn't want to watch a crummy soccer team, week in, week out. Also, where is MLS' headquarters? New York. Most of their corporate clients are also NY-based, so if anyone is doing soccer/business combo visits, it might be a tad embarrassing to have to head over to the Meadowlands to watch the RotMasters skunk it up on a regular basis. Besides, where better than the Big Apple to have a team that everybody loves to hate? Unfortunately, you ruin your argument by using the Rapids as your beacon of virtue. Come on! They were so bad last season that the only way for Colorado was up. N.Y. may have its problems, but Mile High isn't exactly rockin' either. Peter Hu Columbus, Ohio At the beginning of this season, there was a rumor that ESPN would carry a half-hour MLS show every week. Have you heard anything about it yet? Pete Bailey:ESPN2 will be debuting a new half-hour soccer magazine on Saturday, June 7 (to be shown at 10:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. eastern time). Rob Stone will host the show, which will consist of MLS and U.S. national team highlights, as well as high school, collegiate and international action. The show is produced by New York-based soccer marketing company API. Jeff Munro Omaha, Neb. The old saying, "Speed Kills," was never more apparent than in the qualifying matches against Jamaica and Costa Rica. The U.S national teams' overall lack of speed, especially among the defenders, appears to be one of the major hurdles the U.S. must overcome to compete successfully on an international level. I would take speed and quickness over experience any day! What do you think of this observation and how would you remedy the problem? Who are the fastest players on the team? Who are some other "speed" players available to the team that may not have had the opportunity to play yet? Would you move players out of position to take advantage of their speed? Mike Woitalla:I would say a lack of skill is a bigger problem for American players than a lack of speed. Speed without skill is useless. And in games such as the U.S. loss to Costa Rica, the most obvious difference between the teams was that the Costa Ricans passed more accurately, trapped the ball better, and were able to dribble around U.S. players. Yes, the Costa Ricans have fast players who are extremely skillful. To deal with this team, I would unburden skillful U.S. players like Claudio Reyna with defensive duties so that they can concentrate on offense. The U.S. needs to have more possession. That means they also need defenders, who once they win the ball, can keep it, and get it to teammates. Your idea of moving players to different positions is intriguing, because that's what Costa Rica did. Their coach, Horacio Cordero, took two attacking midfielders, Wallace and Berry, and converted them to outside backs. It seems it's easier to teach and attacker to defend than vice versa. So now Costa Rica has two defenders who are dangerous going forward. G.R. Hail Olympia, Wash. During recent games, I have noticed the New England keeper Walter Zenga wearing a "gimmecap" (or baseball cap). I thought this type of cap was an American invention. When did these become FIFA-permitted clothing for keepers? Can only keepers wear them? Ridge Mahoney:Keepers are the only players that can wear caps, and they can be baseball-style or the flatter riding caps some keepers have worn in the past as long as they don't present a danger to other players. The great Spanish keeper, Ricardo Zamora, wore caps -- not baseball caps, however -- in the 20s and 30s, so they are not a recent innovation. Glenn Auve Arlington, Va. Alexi Lalas' form has been slipping quite alot over the last couple of years. Why does Sampson continue to put Lalas in the lineup? Making him sit on the bench and fight for his spot would be good for him and better for the team. Granted there aren't a whole lot of choices on defense, but there are a whole lot of fans out here who believe it's time for Alexi to sit. Is it just his image and marketing ability that has kept him in the line up until now? Are the powers that be at the Federation pressuring Sampson to keep Lalas in the lineup? Ridge Mahoney:He played well against Mexico, and as you say, there aren't that many options on defense. And I don't think Sampson would persist with Lalas if he thought it would cause the U.S. to lose games and cost Sampson his job, regardless of what the federation wants. There's always speculation about his image and if that's what keeps him on the field, but if image counted that much, Cobi Jones wouldn't miss a minute, and Andrew Shue would get a tryout. Kurt Mohr Ripon, Wisc. When I attended the U.S.- Canada game in Palo Alto, Calif., I was very excited to see San Jose Clash players at the gates signing autographs. I had my picture taken with every one of the players that I could find. How long will it take before the MLS players make enough money to get big heads like the other professional athletes in the U.S? Mike Woitalla:First of all, there are a handful of players in the U.S. who do make big money, yet they seem to have kept their roles in perspective. And even if salaries for the average players go up -- and that won't happen for a long time -- players would have to have very short memories to forget how fortunate they are to receive attention in the U.S. Rick Thomas Cincinnati, Ohio I was just wondering about your thoughts on bringing some foreign talent from Asia, especially East Asia, to MLS. How would that help the MLS market, as far as drawing people from Asian backgrounds in MLS cities? I just remember that when Hideo Nomo came to my town here in Cincinnati, even if he wasn't pitching, there was a good sized Asian fan base in the stadium. Ridge Mahoney:MLS has been successful drawing Hispanic fans due to its signing of several top-level Hispanic players: Campos, Cienfuegos, Diaz Arce, Etcheverry, Moreno, Valderrama. Most Hispanic fans won't go out just to see any player. There are a few pockets of large Asian populations in the U.S., but keep in mind, the best South Korean players play in the South Korean league, and the best Japanese players are in the J-League. Would a good Vietnamese or Chinese player lure fans in a city like San Jose? Not unless he was a truly world-class player, and there are very, very few Asians with such a reputation. In the case of China, it too has a pro league and is desperate to qualify for the next World Cup, so exporting its players is out of the question. The San Francisco Blackhawks of the old American Professional Soccer League had a player from Shanghai, Townsend Qin, but he drew only a few fans per game. Nomo is a phenomenon: He retired from Japanese baseball, married an actress, and was a controversial figure in his home country before he jumped to the major leagues. The only Asian player I can think of who could draw fans is Verdy Kawasaki striker Kazu Miura, and the J-League wouldn't let him go for $10 million. Gary P. Shiff Bozrah, Conn. I was curious if you would know of any recording labels which have music, chants, etc. available on Compact Disc pertaining to soccer. I already have "Soccer Rocks The Globe" but would like to broaden my collection, if possible. Duncan Irving:Try: "The Greatest Footie Anthems In The World ... Ever!" (Virgin records). It fuses standards ("We are the Champions), Brit-pop ("Wonderwall"), with techno, FA Cup final tunes and some truly grim stuff (Paul Gascoigne rapping "Fog on the Tyne" with Lindisfarne, or Chris Waddle and Glenn Hoddle's execrable "Diamond Lights"). For global stuff, try getting hold of the "Bend it!" compilations. Check with SportsPages for a full catalog. Sportspages Caxton Walk 94-96 Charing Cross Road London, WC2 H0JG. Phone: 011 44 171 240-9604 Fax: 011 44 171 836-0104 Be warned. Just as millions have said that sports and politics don't mix, there's an equally convincing argument that sports and music don't go hand in hand, either. There's a lot of stuff out there and not much of it -- be it Kevin Keegan trying his hand at pop or Franz Beckenbauer crooning in German -- is very good. Prepare to suffer for your art.
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