PAUL KENNEDY: Their hands are tied

The MetroStars' utterly dismal performance against the Fusion in Lothar Matthaeus' opener brings back memories of the debut of Franz Beckenbauer, Matthaeus' former coach on the German national team and president at Bayern, with the NASL's New York Cosmos 23 years ago.

Both made their debut for New York teams in Florida. And both lost. Badly.

Few will remember this, but the Cosmos Beckenbauer joined in 1977 weren't a great team.

Like the MetroStars, the Cosmos were blown out in their German star's debut, losing the Tampa Bay Rowdies, 4-2, before 45,000 fans in Tampa.

The one difference was the Cosmos did something about it.

First they fired the coach, replacing Gordon Bradley with Eddie Firmani.

Then, they began the process of building what is surely the most talented American team ever assembled.

Only three starters from Beckenbauer's opening game remained when the Cosmos won the NASL the next year, the second of three titles won during the Kaiser's first stint in the NASL.

The scary thing for the remaining MetroStars fans is that there's little their team can do to improve things under MLS's current structure.

Fire the coach like the Cosmos did? Unlikely, though Octavio Zambrano will be under great pressure if things don't improve quickly.

Replace the players? With whom?

The boys at Warner Communications ù Steve Ross and the Ertegun brothers, Ahmet and Nesuhi ù went out and bought the best players they could find.

John Kluge and Stuart Subotnick, the MetroStars owners, are among the richest men in the United States, but their hands are tied.

They can't spend their own money to improve the team.

They'll say it's small price to pay to build a viable pro soccer league.

Tell that to Matthaeus and the (remaining) MetroStars fans.


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