MLS: Season's meetings

As the coaches and general managers of MLS grapple with patching holes, they must in some ways work blind.

Changes in the classification and distribution of players are under discussion. The league has made no official announcements, but teams are working under an assumption that the roster limit will drop from 20 to 19 players.

Not approved yet expected to be adopted is a provision that enables each team to carry several younger players, domestic or foreign, who would not count against a team's roster nor its salary cap. The cap is expected to increase slightly to $1.7 million per team.

A superdraft to include all available players ù college, minor league, Project-40 ù theoretically increases the value of draft picks significantly, although teams have yet to be told how the draft will work.

The major issues facing the teams are:

D.C. United. The departures of Roy Lassiter and Diego Sonora won't be the only changes for the three-time champ.

General Manager Kevin Payne has been calling teams and offering players in exchange for draft picks. Jettisoning Lassiter and Sonora will save the team more than $200,000 in annual salary, but United may have to add Chris Albright to its salary cap next year.

He did not count against the cap in 1999 as a Project-40 player, and is earning four times the $24,000 minimum that most P-40s make. He could be classified as a younger player and be exempt from salary-cap and roster restrictions.

United is looking for defensive and flank reinforcements.

Los Angeles. As expected, Cobi Jones went public with demands for a renegotiated contract. He draws fans and is a marketable name. But is he worth the maximum salary he reportedly wants?

Coach Sigi Schmid needs at least one forward, since Carlos Hermosillo can't be counted on for a full season, if at all. Schmid could move Clint Mathis to forward or to another team.

Keeper Kevin Hartman's deal expires in December and he wants a lot more than the $28,000 he earned in 1999. Offers from abroad could leave a big hole in the nets.

The Galaxy needs to get younger on a backline anchored by Robin Fraser and Paul Caligiuri, who will be 33 and 36.

A move for Dodd?

Dallas. Is keeper Mark Dodd headed back to Denver, where he played for the APSL Colorado Foxes prior to MLS?

Dodd has heard the rumors. "I'd be willing to go there, but they'd have to make it worth my while financially," said Dodd, who earned about $85,000 in 1999 and might be surplus goods with the emergence of Matt Jordan.

Injuries and suspensions thinned out Dallas in the playoffs, so depth is a priority.

Columbus. Coach Tom Fitzgerald doesn't agree with the widespread assessment that his team's results have fallen short of its abilities.

"I see these guys in practice every day," said Fitzgerald. "I know what they can do and what they can't do, or won't do. People said we were underachievers, but I see it a lot differently. I think we overachieved, to be honest."

Fitzgerald wants a playmaking midfielder, since Andy Williams isn't consistent enough, Brian Maisonneuve isn't healthy enough, and Robert Warzycha isn't young enough.

Up front, he plans to give Jeff Cunningham a chance to mesh with Brian McBride, with Brian West waiting in the wings. He'd also like to upgrade the backline with a top-notch player or two.

Chicago. The Fire jettisoned Roman Kosecki and Jerzy Podbrozny, and so needs another forward to complement Josh Wolff and Ante Razov.

It must eventually replace Lubos Kubik and Peter Nowak, and could use depth in midfield as well. Yet Chicago still has most of the starters from its 1998 championship team, and few MLS rosters have young talents equal to Zach Thornton, C.J. Brown and Chris Armas.

Tampa Bay. Both Coach Tim Hankinson and General Manager Nick Sakiewicz are scouting players overseas. Hankinson is traveling with the MLS Project-40 team in Portugal, and Sakiewicz is ostensibly inspecting stadiums in England.

If Roy Lassiter doesn't wind up in Tampa, the Mutiny wants to acquire another forward to pair with Raul Diaz Arce, which could put Musa Shannon ù whose directionless runs and crude first touches often frustrate Carlos Valderrama ù on the trade block. Defender Joseph Addo could bring some trade value.

Florida trades?

Miami. Its surplus of forwards and valuable young entities like Jay Heaps and Leo Cullen give the Fusion ample options. Welton might draw a trade nibble.

Regardless of whom plays up front, someone must provide the ball, which seems a tailor-made scenario for a Mauricio Ramos-Roy Lassiter deal. Henry Gutierrez had a fine season directing the attack, but he doesn't trouble the top teams.

The Fusion's chronic defensive problems were alleviated late in the season with the move of Tyrone Marshall to left back and the pairing of Cullen and Brian Kamler in the middle of defense. Still, the Fusion conceded more goals (59) than every team except the MetroStars.

Colorado. Wolde Harris didn't sufficiently impress English club Stoke City. This puts MLS is something of a bind, since he declared in late October he didn't want to return to the Rapids. Colorado reportedly offered the Burn Harris for Dodd last summer, and could do so again. Paul Bravo had mentioned retirement, but has another year left on his contract, and will probably return.

Questions abound in midfield. Anders Limpar struggled after returning from injury, and Ross Paule and Joey DiGiamarino ran hot and cold.

San Jose. Jair and Alejandro Sequiera, acquired in late-season trades, were waived. Their combined salaries would have cost San Jose $200,000 for the entire 2000 season. San Jose needs the cap room, since the new deal for Ronald Cerritos will pay him the league maximum.

If MLS lures back Jorge Campos, he'll probably wind up in San Jose, but until that deal is done, the Earthquakes need goalie David Kramer to back up Joe Cannon.

Coach Lothar Osiander needs a playmaking midfielder to keep streaky Cerritos and disgruntled Eddie Lewis well-fed with quality balls.

Revs need four

New England. New coach Fernando Clavijo can start rebuilding in goal, since he won't be replacing Walter Zenga in that regard. Now, if the Earthquakes want to trade Kramer to New England, does Sunil Gulati call himself to discuss the deal?

The Revs would like to move John Harkes. A sexy allocation to replace Joe-Max Moore up front is almost a certainty.

New England needs four solid players to fill holes in midfield and defense.

Kansas City. The Wizards' needs are almost too numerous to mention and eight players are already departed.

A speedy forward who can stretch defenses and play alongside Alex Bunbury is vital. The uncertain status of Preki muddies the situation in midfield, as does the fact three Kansas City players ù Uche Okafor, Mo Johnston and Bunbury ù will hold green cards next season, and will no longer be classified as foreigners.

MetroStars. Strong in midfield, weak everywhere else is the assessment by new coach Octavio Zambrano, who regards Henry Zambrano and Mark Chung as quality players, and believes a healthy Sasa Curcic will thrive.

But an overhaul is necessary, for reasons of style as well as quality. The conservative doctrine of Bora Milutinovic will not translate to the freewheeling brio preferred by Zambrano. The Mystery of Tab Ramos continues.

by Soccer America senior editor Ridge Mahoney

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