Who are the top keepers in the world today and how does Kasey Keller rate?
Ridge Mahoney: Kasey is undoubtedly one of the top keepers in the world, but it's difficult to assess just how good he is until he plays in a World Cup. Yet, his showings in the Copa America indicate he can compete at the highest level. He's done quite well in the Premier League, and had a very good performance at the Olympics. If he has a good World Cup -- and he'll have to play well if the U.S. is to have any chance of advancing -- he would justifiably rank in the top 15, perhaps the top 10. More importantly, since he will be out of contract with Leicester in June, he will be able to move freely to a much bigger club, probably in England or Germany. Keep in mind he's competing with Peter Schmeichel (Manchester United and Denmark), David Seaman (Arsenal and England), Edwin Van Der Sar (Ajax and the Netherlands), Andreas Koepke (Marseille and Germany), Bodo Illgner (Real Madrid and Germany), Oliver Kahn (Bayern Munich), Stefan Klos (Borussia Dortmund), Angelo Peruzzi (Juventus and Italy) and Gianluca Pagliuca (Inter Milan and Italy) to name but a few. All of them have a lot more experience in major national-team and club competitions. But if Kasey were to move successfully to a big continental club, with the opportunity to play regularly in European competition, he could emerge as one of the top three or four keepers in the world within a few years. He certainly has the tools.
What is the status of the lawsuit the MLS players filed? It seems to me that the players knew the system before they signed up to play, and they should at least let the league get a solid foundation before trying to change it. What is your opinion of the suit and how it affects the future of MLS?
Paul Kennedy: Don't look for the trial to begin for some time or for an early settlement (contrary to the rumors out there recently). The judge in the case turned down motions for summary judgment by both sides this winter. My opinion: Should there be more freedom for clubs to pick players and in turn for players to move from team to team via free agency? Yes. Are players underpaid? By other sports' standards, of course. Does MLS have the money to pay them? No. Could MLS have gotten off the ground without this concept? We'll never know, but it sure would have been hard. What will the impact be? Good question. These are big-time owners MLS has managed to get behind it -- one of the big pluses it has had compared to other American soccer ventures -- but they may think twice about sticking around long-term if MLS loses on key issues of the single-entity principle. Then again, by the time a decision is rendered and appeals have been processed, they will know if financially MLS soccer will fly. Those of us around during the NASL days will remember the great victory it was when the NASL won its dual-ownership antitrust suit against the NFL and how by the time the issue of damages came up the NASL was dead!
Derek J. McCracken
Most everyone is in agreement that if Tab Ramos makes a near 100% comeback from his knee injury prior to the World Cup, the U.S. will be in a better position to compete against teams in its bracket. What is the status of Tab's rehabilitation?
Duncan Irving: Ramos is on injured reserve until April 15. The real issue is what happens after that point. Will he be used sparingly by the Metros and eased back into play, or will he be thrown into the thick of the action and risk another injury that could rule him out of the World Cup pool? That's the club vs. country argument that coaches rage about all over the globe. I don't think the Metros are in any position to ease him back into the lineup, as they need all the bodies they can muster. Which leaves it up to the player. Does he slide in, secure a World Cup spot and take the appearance fee in France, or does he content himself with a guaranteed contract and do what he can to stop the rot at the Meadowlands? Ramos is a super-competitive player and will likely want to play asap, but France '98 will in all probability be his last World Cup. That's not an easy call.
I studied at the University of Virginia from 1992-1996, and subsequently got to see some great young American stars play under Bruce Arena. Which of his former players recently added to D.C. United (Wood, Slivinski, Olsen) have a shot at being regular contributors to the team? Also, any chance that Arena will try to acquire Damian Silvera, who also played with all of these fellas? And why doesn't Mike Fisher get his priorities straight and concentrate on soccer? There are plenty of quality American doctors out there, we need more quality American soccer professionals! :)
Mike Woitalla: Let's go through these one by one: An excellent college player, Mike Fisher weighed playing pro soccer at low pay in hopes of trying to be a star against going to medical school. He chose the latter. Damian Silvera was another excellent college player but was thrown into a difficult situation when he joined the MetroStars. He left Kansas City to return to school to finish his degree and the last time I saw him -- December 1997 -- he said he wanted to eventually return to pro soccer. He is set to play for the Richmond Kickers in the upcoming A-League season. I don't know if Bruce Arena has any interest, but he has welcomed more than a few former Cavaliers into the D.C. United camp. Ben Olsen is a great young talent and an exciting player. At D.C United, Arena will give him time to adapt to the pro game. I think he could turn out to be an important player for American soccer. He has a way of beating players one-on-one that reminds me of Tab Ramos. I've always admired A.J. Wood's desire to score. Pure goalscorers are valuable to the game, and if A.J. ever increases his rate of converting chances he could become an MLS star. At the very least, he will continue to be an attacker who makes defenders uncomfortable, thereby contributing to D.C. United's offense whenever it needs frontline reinforcement. I haven't seen Mike Slivinski play since college, when injuries curtailed his career. Arena has also added former UVa midfielder Lyle Yorks to the roster this season.
There has been much guessing and speculation as to how much money MLS has been losing over the last two years. How much money has it been, and is that from just yearly operations, or does it include the initial start-up costs and such?
Paul Kennedy: MLS does not publish its yearly losses, but the two-year losses are believed to exceed $30 million. Some of those losses are startup costs. Others are amortized over several years. Losses were down in Year 2 due to reduced startup costs, but at the same time revenue from tickets was down. This is why the modest TV deal with ABC this year is important. Even more critical, attendance must rise to boost ticket revenue as this will ultimately determine whether MLS can cut its losses to zero. These losses don't include, any losses clubs themselves have suffered from their own operating costs (front-office staff, promotions, advertising). A few clubs are believed to have broken even in Year 2, but that's still a minority.