Q&A with the SA Editors: Jan. 29, 1999

Adam Miller Davison, Mich. I was curious if MLS has merchandise sales figures for each club? Just wondering who's on top and so on -- I know the other sports always release their sales lists each year and wondered where soccer is at in terms of sales. Ridge Mahoney: A good question, Adam. There are no such figures available, although informally, the league says the top-selling club for merchandise is, not surprisingly, D.C. United. But I look for the Fire to do well this season -- especially since it's replica jerseys will finally be available. As a league, MLS sold in the neighborhood of $40 million last year -- no small sum, but less than one-tenth of the business generated by the top-selling individual sports teams -- Dallas Cowboys, New York Yankees, Chicago Bulls, etc. Timm Kluender Vail, Colo. Why did Bruce Arena leave John O'Brien off of the roster for the US/Bolivia match? Pete Bailey: Unfortunately, O'Brien was suffering from a toe injury and was unable to participate in the Florida training camp or the Bolivia match. He has rejoined his Dutch club, Utrecht, for training in Spain in preparation for its Dutch Cup match against First Division leader Feyenoord this coming week. All three Americans will be playing in the Dutch Cup this week, as Gregg Berhalter's Cambuur (against Emmen) and Ernie Stewart's NAC (facing Vitesse Arnhem) are also still alive. Bruce Arena said that the biggest disappointment of the January camp was not being able to get a look at O'Brien. Constantine "Red" Foley Boston There's a lot more to the picture than meets the eye in regards to the salary cap. Since MLS has not disclosed any hard and fast rules on salary structure (such as what players' "Achieveable Bonuses" are), it is very difficult to figure out who is over, at, or near the salary cap. Also, the practice of under-valuing certain players for cap purposes (Zenga and Lalas to name two) is disingenuous. Why can't D.C. United get an "exemption" for Harkes? Not that I shed any tears for United, but I found it ironic that Logan and Gulati were crowing over the Interamerican Cup, yet their policies of forcing D.C. to dismantle will virtually assure that no MLS club will likely be able to compete with the best clubs in the hemisphere. Instead of making United worse, they should be concentrating on making the other clubs better. Parity may be a good thing, but parody is not. When can we expect to see a story on this subject in SA? Ridge Mahoney: Well, Red, without figures, a detailed story on the salary cap is extremely difficult to substantiate. We covered the point regarding the dismantling of United in following the Tony Sanneh deal and the discussions regarding Harkes. And I think the league will follow a similar course with Harkes as it did with Lalas and Zenga if he's not bought outright by Nottingham Forest, but does not this type of arrangement make the salary-cap sham even worse? Is there a cap, or isn't there? And the answer is, "Well, there is, but .... ask Sunil." How much did Roberto Donadoni really make? Is a sponsor or sponsors sweetening a player's salary any different than players fattening their wallets on endorsement deals? If this is a way for the richer teams to pay their players more, I say Huzzah! But the salary cap can make other teams better, as in the case of Tampa and San Jose and Miami, all of which have players other teams have unloaded to meet the cap. And salary cap issues force NFL and NBA teams into deals all the time. Those players have to go somewhere, and clubs that are smarter -- both in terms of personnel evaluation as well as financial constraints -- will grab them. Ross Gulla Memphis, Tenn. With the A-League suspending the Montreal Impact for the 1999 season, I have see some talk at a few websites of a Canadian soccer league starting. Is this likely and would a Canadian league hurt or help the MLS? Paul Kenendy: A Canadian pro league -- if it happens in any form, big or small (likely the latter) -- can't hurt MLS because MLS has no interest in Canada. It's not part of its business plan or that of those key organizations with which it is working -- i.e. U.S. Soccer and Nike and IMG (Project 2010). It won't draw away Canadian players because (1) MLS has so few of them (Jason Bent and Geoff Aunger are the only ones at the moment) and (2) most of the top Canadians (dozens of them) are already in Europe. On why MLS doesn't care about Canada, it isn't simply because Canadian soccer has struggled so badly since qualifying for the '86 World Cup. The NASL experience showed that while the NASL needed Canadian teams -- Vancouver and Toronto were among the last ones -- it didn't help from a business (weak Canadian dollar) and marketing point of view (just because a company had interest in a program in the United States, it didn't mean its Canadian operation cared about it, and vice versa; the same applied for TV). Jose Garcia Liberty, N.Y. Where do you rank D.C. United winning the Interamerican Cup over Vasco da Gama in U.S. soccer history? To me it's got to be No. 1. Perhaps we don't give MLS enough credit for the things they have done right. Maybe we should take pride in our little league, and not try to ship every promising player out to Europe. Hey, Ridge Mahoney. Claudio Reyna can stay and toil away for playing time in Europe. He's not good enough to play in a league that has the "best team in the Western Hemisphere"! Ridge Mahoney: Jose, I'll note your assertion that the Bundesliga is not as good as MLS, as per Claudio Reyna. D.C. indeed scored a great victory, but to me, national team accomplishments are more important in American soccer, since they are achieved by teams comprised entirely of Americans. So I'd put the 2-1 World Cup win over Colombia in 1994 on top, for its impact on the country. Next would be the wins over England in 1950 and 1993. United beating Vasco is about on a par with beating Argentina at the 1995 Copa America. I don't comprehend your statement that "we" "ship" some of our best players overseas. As far as I can tell, Keller and Friedel and Reyna and Kirovski and Sanneh and Hejduk went willingly, didn't they?
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