Are there any plans to make MLS trading cards?
RM: Yesssss! I believe there will be full sets of each team available next spring. Last year, a set was produced for those players who were picked for the MLS All-Star Game, but they were not distributed widely.
Doug Logan was quoted as saying in the Chicago Tribune that Wrigley Field was not a viable option as a stadium for a Chicago MLS team for a year until Soldier Field was available. The demographics of the people that live within 2 square miles of Wrigley are 23-35 year-olds (MLS targets), with big pockets of Hispanics in some areas. Logan said that the main concern was that he did not want part of the field to be a baseball diamond - I find one-sixth of the field covered with baseball dirt much less annoying than a full field of Astroturf (Giants Stadium) and 68 yard wide fields which destroy the game. Can someone tell Doug Logan, Chicago needs a team now, and they can actually gain a foothold if they played at Wrigley for a year? (The Chicago Sting would sell out Wrigley, and it was believed there were lots of locals in attendance.)
RM: A Chicago team would have to play at Wrigley for three or four years until Soldier Field is ready, and I disagree with you strongly about infield dirt -- it has no place in Division I soccer.
Several NASL teams had to play on infields, and the problems were massive --
poor footing, severe abrasions, broken bones. The Sting sold out Wrigley exactly once, for a meeting with the Cosmos in 1981, and despite winning two championships lost millions of dollars. I don't like narrow fields either, but dirt is a disaster.
I don't think MLS is confident about a Chicago team succeeding in that tough market without strong local involvement and a proper facility. I, too, would love to see a team in Chicago, but right now it's not feasible.
I went to college in Washington, D.C. in the late 80's and early 90's and at the same time there were several excellent foreign players at local colleges who have gone on to play professionally abroad. Do you know if MLS is interested in signing Howard's Shaka Hislop (playing for Newcastle in his native England), George Mason's Joe Addo of Ghana (somewhere in Germany), his teammate Tamir Linhart (who played in his native Israel) and American's David Nakhid, a Trinidadian who plays in Portugal? Also would they count against the foreign quota because they played college soccer in the U.S.?
RM: Foreigners are foreigners, unless and until they obtain green cards. Shaka is probably too expensive for MLS, which won't shell out big bucks for goalkeepers no matter how talented; the league negotiated with Addo over the summer and the talks have resumed; I haven't heard Linhart's name mentioned; Nakhid is a remote possibility. But because they're foreigners, the league will be reluctant to sign them unless it is convinced they can significantly improve the level of play and draw fans.
Here's a topic I would like to see you investigate. MLS has created a LOT of confusing conflicts with its player allocation system. To be fair, it's very hard to divvy up a pool of players ten ways and have it come out more or less even. However, it strikes me as very odd that, for example, the LA Galaxy received Cobi Jones as their fifth allocation, when by any stretch of the imagination, many teams with four allocations had worse selections. Also, does MLS have specific rules as to when a club is "entitled" to another allocated player if one doesn't work out, in the cases of Ruben Dario Hernandez in NY/NJ and Giuseppe Galderisi in NE, or is sold, like Leonel Alvarez in Dallas?
RM: Yep, but Jones simply refused to play anywhere else but L.A., so what does the league do: grab him and send him where he wants to go no matter how loudly the other teams howl, or lose a chance to sign one of the USA's most recognizable and popular players? Dallas gave up a fifth allocation so it could go to Columbus in the form of Brad Friedel, but remember Dallas is a league-run team, and the Hunt-run Columbus franchise had been screaming about Friedel for months. So it goes.
If you read Soccer America regularly,
you'll know we've covered this topic extensively much as the league handled it: On a case-by-base basis, making it up as they went along. In many examples, the league didn't know if and when more
allocations would be available, so teams had to choose then and there whether to take a player, or pass and hope something better would come along. There are several other allocations that teams
would like to trade or dump, but remember: It is the league that buys and sells players, so it must eat the contract of a player it cannot unload -- i.e. Juan Berthy Suarez --
even if must buy a replacement.
If anything, the next round of allocations will be more difficult than the first, since several teams are eager to unload allocated players but the league may not be able to find a place for them if they're not traded to another MLS team. And, keep in mind, the league also wants to get players to sell tickets as well as improve the caliber of play, which means Hispanic players in many cases.
I just read over your MLS depth chart, and was completely surprised to see Peter Bridgwater listed as the top GM. As I'm not inside soccer, I don't know what he did this past season to deserve this honor. Clearly he's done something that I'm not aware of, as MLS also gave him top honors. However, everything I've read on-line indicates that he's quite a boor when it comes to his opinions of his staunchest fans. On that basis alone, I'd put him at #10 rather than #1. The Dallas front office and Billy Hicks has been, as far as I can tell, much more fan-friendly, as well as doing a decent job with what he has available. Just my nickel from a ways outside the inner workings of U.S. soccer.
RM: Bridgwater certainly has flaws, but why do you think MLS put the inaugural game in San Jose, had him promote the championship game (from 3,000 miles away), and has team GMs call him any time they have a problem with promotion, operations, marketing, etc.? He knows inside and out how to sell the game and put on an event. And MLS will once again stage its opening game in San Jose next March. He's a tyrant, but he knows his stuff.
Now, his coach didn't do the greatest job putting a team together, but unlike other pro sports, MLS GMs have minimal control with player matters, since the league controls all transactions. Hicks is certainly the more personable of the two, which does count for something. But between two league-run teams, there's no question who did the superior job in Year One. We'll see if Bridgwater's prickly personality hurts the franchise next season.
And you're not quite correct about the league honoring Bridgwater as top GM. As I said in the story, they gave him a different honor -- top operations executive, or some other such gobbledygook -- so the Hunt family could push their Boy Wonder, Jamey Rootes, as the league's top general manager. Smells like politics, eh?
(And, Eric, as a regular contributor to our on-line Q & As, I'm deeply disappointed you didn't rate the rest of my selections. I hope you agree with my assessment of Jason Kreis, at least!)
When is the college draft? Who do you think the Revolution are going to get? Are there any rule changes for next season?
RM: The proposed date for the college draft is Feb. 1, but has yet to be confirmed. I have no idea who the Revs will draft. The competition committee has no major rule changes on the agenda.
Well, the criticism continues...even from the vaunted editors of this magazine... U.S. players are mediocre, U.S. college system is a dead end, etc. It grows more cliched as time passes. Well, most of our national team played in college. The Premier league is full of Welsh, Scots, Irish, English -- all teams we have handily thrashed! When do we get respect? When we win back-to-back World Cups? Is it as frustrating to you that even the so called "experts," even in the U.S., fail to give you guys any credit. I doubt this question will be allowed to be asked!
RM: Well, Jeff, As we have said, most of the U.S. team played in college -- and many of the top players left school early to get better competition: Friedel, Moore, Harkes, Reyna, Wynalda, Balboa, Caligiuri. Nowhere have we said college is a dead end; it's just not the optimal route for players shooting for the top level.
The bulk of American players competing in MLS -- not the national team -- are indeed inferior to their counterparts in major European and South American leagues, and much of that is due to the simple fact that they did not improve at as rapid a pace from the ages of 18 to 21 as did young players in other countries because they played college ball while their foreign rivals were playing for pro teams. But those college players who receive international experience -- on the U.S. U-20, Olympic, or `B' teams -- usually show considerable progress due to the tougher competition. Ask any player or coach who's gone through it. Playing Bowling Green didn't make Brian Maisonneuve a better player. What's your response to Steve Sampson and Bruce Arena saying college soccer inhibits a players' development if he aspires to the pro level?
Do you really think a top college team like Virginia could consistently beat the reserve teams of Real Madrid, Juventus, Manchester United, or Ajax, even if they played only their players in that age group? Sorry, there's just no way.
And, how do you define "respect?" The U.S. players won the Gold Cup in 1991, and we praised them, as we did when the U.S. won the U.S. Cup in '92, beat a reeling, shattered English team in '93, got to the second round in '94, toppled Argentina and finished fourth in the Copa America last year, etc., etc. Did you read more about those accomplishments in SA or somewhere else?
Your choice of opponents as a barometer of success makes
little sense and reflects a strangely British slant. Nevertheless, here goes:
The U.S. has never played Wales, which hasn't qualified for a World Cup since 1958. The Welsh just lost to the Dutch, 7-1. Could the U.S. beat Wales? Yeah, but they haven't done it.
U.S. record against Scotland: one win, three losses -- the 2-1 win last May was the first time we'd scored against the Scots!
U.S. record against England: two wins, five losses -- spanked at Wembley 0-2 last time out.
U.S. record against Ireland -- two wins, three losses, two ties -- not bad, but hardly superior. The U.S. barely beat a rebuilding Irish team at home last June.
Now, let's look at some of the teams the U.S. has lost to since the World Cup:
Not a disgrace -- England, Belgium, Sweden, Colombia, Bolivia and Brazil (twice each).
Hmmm -- Saudi Arabia, Costa Rica, Trinidad & Tobago. Not the mark of a budding world power.
(We won't rate the loss to Peru in October.)
The U.S. has certainly improved considerably in this decade, and if you can't find praise somewhere in the hundreds of stories Soccer America has published on the national team and its players in that time, I can't for the life of me imagine what you've been reading.
After many discussions with a radio sports announcer friend of mine, it recently occurred to me that the reason soccer gets a lot of media bashing might be because the media people see the growth of soccer as a threat to their livelihood. Most of them don't know a free kick from a hangnail. They have no background in the sport and know nothing of its history, tradition and culture. They can discuss (American) football, basketball and baseball, etc., in depth, from the pro leagues to Jr. High. But let the subject turn to soccer and the bashing starts. It might be a basic instinct - survival. If soccer continues to grow people will demand knowledgeable media coverage, and they might be in big trouble. Your thoughts?
RM: I'd add fear and laziness to survival. Fear of being quizzed about something of which they know nothing and care less, laziness for not making the effort to learn.
Happily, in the last few years, I've met dozens of journalists and reporters willing to cover soccer thoroughly, not just because they have some respect for the sport, but also because they consider it worthy of their efforts. I'm hearing a lot less snotty questions about "Why can't soccer make it in America?" and a lot more about Keller vs. Friedel or L.A.'s questionable substitutions in the MLS final. Hey, it's like they're covering a real sport. (It's bloody well about time!)
But thousands of other media types, and not just the older ones, cling to stereotypes and cliches. See the Nov. 11 issue of Soccer America --
either print or on-line -- to read a piece on this subject titled: "MLS Is Last Bastion for Soccer-Bashers".
In the wake of the USA's 2-0 victory over Guatemala in New Guatemala City (formerly known as Washington, DC), I have the following question: The crowds are much bigger compared to 1988, but the same problem persists: What, if anything, can be done to give the US team some semblance of a home team advantage?
RM: Thousands upon thousands of excited, singing, flag-waving fans eager to spend the day roaring on their team instead of showing up at kickoff and sitting like stones until the U.S. scores. In Richmond, the Trinidadian fans were at the stadium by late morning, nearly all of the late arrivals were U.S. fans.
Some progress has been made, but as you point out, we're far, far away. Still, the 40,000 at Stanford for the Costa Rica match acquitted themselves quite well.
Regarding the U.S. vs. Guatemala crowd, I believe many Salvadoran fans in the D. C. area who world ordinarily support the U.S. were rooting for Guatemala as a result of the tragedy that took place before their last game against Costa Rica. This tragedy also galvanized support for the team amongst expatriate Guatemalans. But the question remains: what does the U.S. Soccer Federation do to publicize these games? Here in Southern California, there ordinarily is little pre-match publicity for national team games in the English media. I am bilingual, so I notice that in Spanish there exists a great deal of publicity, the majority not even generated by the Federation. I believe U.S. Soccer needs to get the message out through radio, TV and newspaper about these matches and make the players available to these media outlets. Are they doing this and is it sufficient enough?
RM: They have taken some steps by hiring a full-time promoter to work on home U.S. qualifiers and friendlies, and I hope the slamming they took after the 1996 Gold Cup fiascoes had something to do with it.
But radio, TV and newspaper ads require lots of money, and it takes hustle and hard work to get reporters and broadcasters to do interviews, features, etc. with soccer people. It's changing, but slowly.
And let's face it: Youth associations all around the country haven't done nearly as much as they can to galvanize their ranks to support U.S. games. Will the earth stop turning if U-10 recreational games are washed out or rescheduled?
My sophomore high school football team once played at 8:30 in the morning so we could zip off to see Stanford play Southern Cal, which at the time had a player named Simpson who some people rated rather highly. It was a great day.
When more than 30,000 people show up at RFK and only a few hundred -- if that -- are youth players, something is terribly wrong. Did all the no-shows have games that Sunday? I doubt it.
Why can't leagues and teams charter buses as did the Trinidadian fans in Richmond? What if the U.S. players had arrived to see dozens of buses and vans, decorated with banners and signs, disgorging youth players carrying American flags and wearing red, white, and blue?
The associations always have excuses, and people swamped with scheduling fields and referees and playoffs may not have the time or patience to work on such a project. And U.S. Soccer has in most cases done a very heavy-handed, clumsy job of using those outlets to the fullest.
But if the American soccer community is reluctant and/or unwilling to watch its team play in large numbers, soccer deserves its backwater status. Millions of people bowl, but I haven't heard of any PBA tournament selling out an arena. Where soccer is now isn't good enough.