MLS executives held a conference call Jan. 15. Here are some of the highlights:
Season tickets/Attendance: The season ticket base for all ten MLS teams is up 18 percent from this time last year. A total of 24,116 season tickets have been sold as of Jan. 14. New England leads all clubs with 5,721 season ticket holders.... MLS officials hope to increase the league's attendance by 15 percent for this coming season. This would mean an average attendance of just over 20,000 fans per game.
Schedule issues: Commissioner Doug Logan said "MLS may shift a few games due to the World Cup qualifying schedule," but added that he expects the change to affect no more than three games.... MLS is also reviewing a number of proposals about the league's schedule during the 1998 World Cup in France. "The feeling here is that we cannot afford the luxury the NHL has with their shutting down for three weeks during the Winter Olympic Games," said Logan. "We cannot afford to do this. Lengthening the schedule this season will help us next year if we need to thin out the schedule during the World Cup. Also, we'll have to adjust depending on which countries qualify." Logan also said that the league is not considering a season with two halves or a shortened schedule. Since many World Cup teams will probably train in the U.S., there is also a good chance the MLS clubs may play exhibitions against these teams.
Player signings: Deputy Commissioner Sunil Gulati said that the league plans to announce a new international
player signing each week through the end of March. The league hopes to sign 15-18 new international players:
4-5 from Central America, 7-9 from South America and Mexico, and 2-4 from Europe, Africa, Asia, and the rest of the world.... Guatemalan Martin Machon will be allocated to an MLS team next week.... Gulati said that MLS has had talks with U.S. national team players who are currently playing overseas, including Thomas Dooley and Claudio Reyna, but it appears that none of the current U.S. national team members abroad will join MLS in 1997. However, Gulati said that World Cup 1994 defender Mike Lapper could be wearing an MLS uniform in the near future.... Brad Friedel and his representatives will meet with officials from Galatasaray, the Turkish club which loaned him to MLS in 1996, next week. MLS hopes to re-sign the national team keeper.
Expansion: Logan stated that the first round of MLS expansion will likely occur in 1999, when two new teams will be added to the league, with two more teams in 2001 and another pair in 2003. The league's goal is to have 16 teams.
Project-40: Gulati said more details will be announced in February, but he mentioned that potential Project-40 players are being scouted by a group headed by Director of Player Development Tim Hankinson.
D.C. United will face Grampus Eight: 1996 MLS champion D.C. United will play Nagoya Grampus Eight, the J-League champions who are coached by former MetroStars' coach Carlos Queiroz, on March 2 in Japan as part of the Sanwa Bank Cup. Logan said it will be the first of many overseas friendlies against top clubs. A possible future event may be an All-Star game pitting the best in MLS against the best in the J-League.
Bigger salary budget: Logan confirmed that the 1997 player salary budget will be $1.3 million for 20 players. Last year's budget was $1.135 million for 18 players, and $1.193 million when rosters were expanded to 20 men. The salary budget includes achievable bonuses, but not benefits. The new league maximum salary is $192,500, up from $175,000 in 1996.
Other Notes: Honduran national team defender Arnold Cruz will train with D.C. United for a week later this month in Bradenton, Fla.... MLS announced that it will likely have a player evaluation combine for players from Brazil and Argentina during the second week of February. A similar effort in 1996 produced MLS stars Welton (New England), Alberto Naveda (New England), and Mario Gori (D.C. United).