Christopher S. Allen
Thanks for providing the Q&A with the editors; it's a great way to have a serious, two-way discussion of major issues pertaining to soccer in the U.S.
The Shootout! MLS claims that there is widespread support for them, yet in the only 2 surveys that have been made public (see the latest "Pictures of Chairman Mao" fanzine of the New England Revolution), there is far more support for draws than this contrived attempt to avoid draws. Why won't MLS divulge the data that supposedly support shootouts? Why won't Soccer America do its own poll of its subscribers and visitors to the web site and generate a response of 2,000 or 3,000 so we can get some hard data on this issue.
Ridge Mahoney: We have repeatedly asked MLS for more data, and specifics about how the questions were asked. The surveys you mention were not thorough enough for us to print. There was no response from the league for additional information -- I suspect it doesn't exist, to tell you the truth, or I wouldn't be surprised if a majority said they liked the shootouts if they had to decide between them and say, human sacrifice.
It's a good idea for a reader survey, and I hope we do it soon. MLS greatly discounts responses from both our magazine and our web-site visitors, believing that the view of casual sports fans counts more than soccer zealots. After all, why should the league listen to people to who go to games because they love the sport more than Andrew Shue, and fight their way through a monsoon to watch the final or through a horrific traffic jam to watch the Galaxy? However, until fans start walking out by the thousands before the shootout starts, MLS execs won't care how many complaints they get.
In order for Major League Soccer to be a top-flight league we need to sign the top players both young and old in CONCACAF. Players such as Dwight Yorke of Trinidad, Martin Machon of Guatemala, and Luis Garcia of Mexico. Do you agree with me that they need to sign the top players here in our own region before they seriously try to sign players from abroad? What is the chance of players such as these, who have displayed their talents in the World Cup qualifiers, playing in MLS next year? I would really like to see Machon in a Burn uniform.
Ridge Mahoney: Machon has signed, but Dwight Yorke is far too expensive at this time and Luis Garcia is not far behind. England and Mexico are among the highest-paying leagues in the world. More likely are players like Jorge Rodriguez of El Salvador and Arnold Cruz of Honduras. Paulo Wanchope, the young Costa Rican star, would be a nice addition as well, but he is training for QPR in England and may prove to be too expensive. A few bigger names may surface, like Richard Gough of Scotland (recently allocated to Kansas City) and Alain Sutter of Switzerland.
Santa Cruz, Calif.
I haven't seen David Wagner on the WC qualifying squad lately? What's his status on the US team?
Also, when is Steve Sampson going to quit the big goalkeeper charade? Kasey Keller seems like the obvious choice... he has better stats, a better resume, and the U.S. squad plays well behind him. So play him!
Mike Woitalla: Sampson is certainly keeping Wagner in mind. He has declined to bring in foreign-based players unless he absolutely needed them, because he appreciates the experience they're getting with their clubs.
If I were the U.S. national team coach, I would say, "Kasey Keller is the No. 1 goalkeeper in my team. He will start every important game. He is the most accomplished professional soccer player this country has ever produced (he's surpassed John Harkes for English League appearances). He is also, simply, the best goalkeeper this country has ever had."
After watching MLS's inaugural season I came away less than impressed with the majority of the goalkeeping (as did SA when it rated players by position at season's end.) Aside from Campos, Dodd, Meola, Dougherty and Simpson, it seemed that most of the keepers were in net simply by default because no better option existed. Because MLS wants attacking soccer, it seems reluctant to use foreign slots on 'keepers, thus putting a premium on the need for good American ones. To that end has MLS moved any closer to signing Juergen Sommer, Ian Feuer or Marcus Hahnemann, and are any of the top indoor keepers like Bret Phillips or Victor Nogueira capable of upgrading the quality of MLS goalkeepers? Or does MLS want poor goalkeeping because it helps keep scoring high?
Ridge Mahoney: Sommer and Feuer are playing in England, where the cost of buying and selling players has skyrocketed higher than MLS is prepared to go at this time. But if a player loses his place, and his price comes down, his club will shop around. Hahnemann has a long-term deal in Seattle, and MLS doesn't want to pay transfer fees for domestic players, which is the same situation for the indoor keepers.
I don't think MLS wants bad goalkeepers; otherwise, why would it have brought Brad Friedel to Columbus on loan? Of course, it also brought over Chris Woods at the insistence of former Colorado head coach Bob Houghton, and look how that turned out. The league will, however, spend money on attackers first. In New England, Thomas Rongen has already begun the process to bring Khalil Azmi onto his roster, and I doubt MLS is going to tell him he can't.
Goalkeeping should be better this year in places like Kansas City and New England. We'll see what happens in San Jose and Colorado. And of the keepers you mentioned, if any of them get hurt, only Campos has a solid backup (David Kramer), although Scott Budnick (Tampa) had a couple of good games.
Long Beach, Calif.
I understand that Chicago will not be getting an expansion team because of stadium problems, what I want to know is what other expansion cities have real viable stadiums, and what are the stadiums? Also, how is the proposed Columbus stadium progressing?
Ridge Mahoney: Chicago might get a team with expansion deferred until at least 1999. Other candidates are Charlotte, Miami, Houston, and Seattle, the latter if a new facility is built with grass. The Columbus measure, which also calls for a new arena, has its opponents, and two previous measures to build an arena were defeated in the 1980s. As of now, the stadium is more or less an addendum to a measure that will be voted on in May.
Why do I train so hard every day of every week like a dog, and, when game time rolls around, I look like I never bother to touch a ball? Is all of the personal training, and mental preparation worth it?
Poul Swain: Tom, your situation is not unique. Others also suffer from this problem -- of playing great during practice then dropping a level at game time. The answer is not to stop practicing but to try to approach games differently. If you're too tense during games, try to pretend you're in a regular practice setting. Hopefully you can loosen up and play better.
Given that MLS has chosen to ignore the existence of an international soccer schedule in its first two years, do you feel that MLS will schedule a full slate of games during World Cup 98?
Ridge Mahoney: There is no integrated international soccer schedule used throughout the world, which is why South American nations have the same problems with their players in Europe as they do with their players in MLS. If Fiorentina plays on the same weekend as does Argentina, Batistuta doesn't line up in Florentine purple.
Commissioner Doug Logan has said MLS will play through the '98 World Cup, but could "thin out" its schedule during the competition. Logan did say the league would adhere to its program of 32 league matches per team.
My son plays for the same club team that has produced Ross Paule (ex-Creighton). How do you explain to a 12-year-old boy why players like Paule leave college early for professionalism? Is this the start of a trend in our U.S. soccer system?
Mike Woitalla: I am unfamiliar with Paule's personal academic goals, or whether he plans on getting his degree later. Considering the odds of ever making a good living playing pro sports -- and the importance of a college education -- I would certainly stress the importance of an education to a 12-year-old.
Even if someone is going to be a successful professional athlete, he should probably also get an education, because there must be life after the athletic career. How to combine the two is something that must be planned out.
How do you explain Paule's situation to a youngsters? Is that unlike explaining why some people attend only two years of junior college, or why some people don't attend college and instead try to learn a trade?
I would certainly set a youngster on a path that leads to a post-high school education. If the youngster is an excellent soccer player, he might get a scholarship. At least, he can play ball while studying. If he attracts the interest of a pro club while in college, that would be when to start considering that option.
I believe that most players who forego college for pro soccer will be in one of two categories: They are not academically inclined, or they are so talented that they believe the risk is worth taking. The number of academically inclined men who don't give college soccer a go will remain small.
Are there any plans for a highlights video of the first MLS season? It seems that such videos are commonplace after major tournaments (i.e., World Cup highlights, best goals, etc.; same for the Euro championships). I think that the inaugural season deserves some sort of highlight video.
Ridge Mahoney: I agree, Gus, but MLS has lagged in many areas, television and video being one of them. A highlight video is still in production, with no release date set. One problem is ABC/ESPN failed to provide MLS with ``clean feeds'' of several important games, including the MLS final, which greatly complicates production and rights interpretations because of graphics and sponsor logos appearing on-screen.
Red Bank, N.J.
During the presidential election last year, both President Clinton and (former) Senator Bob Dole tried to court the vote of the "soccer moms" (who voted for Clinton). This term has confused me, but I do know the term refers to women with young children. What do you think of the term "soccer moms" and who do you think it really refers to?
Ridge Mahoney: Anu, I think you hit the nail on the head. Women with children of soccer-playing age sounds good to me, too.
Broken Arrow, Okla.
I think that the most entertaining college game that I have ever seen was the semifinal between FIU and UNC Charlotte and the final between St. Johns and FIU was not far behind. The emphasis was on skill and very little brute force. When will the majority of American coaches be able to extract that aspect of the game from their teams? Too often we hear the comment about a player being to small for the game an argument of utter irrelevance.
Mike Woitalla: In my coverage of the final four (Dec. 30) I described how the coaches of St. John's and Florida International were especially adept at finding talented, skillful players. They don't simply look in the usual places for the usual suspects.
Too many college coaches, I believe, are content with gathering their talent in the white suburban fields where fine young gentlemen with good grades play their soccer. They don't make the effort, or don't know where to find, players who may not be a part of the Olympic Development Program or traveling-club circuit.
There are certainly hundreds of excellent players in the country's big cities who don't have the luxury of attending high schools with sophisticated -- or any -- kind of college counseling. Take FIU's Tyrone Marshall, an excellent player and now a good student. He hadn't taken his SAT, and thus had to go to an NAIA school (Lindsey Wilson) after sitting out a year. Eventually, he ended up at FIU, and the wait was certainly worth it for the Golden Panthers.