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Plethora of Moves Kept Off-Season Interesting

The groundhog having stirred, Major League Soccer finally is reemerging from its own winter slumber and is gearing up for its second season, which begins March 22.

There are three new coaches--World Cup ’94 winner Carlos Alberto Parreira of Brazil with the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, former U.S. national team coach John Kowalski with the Tampa Bay Mutiny and former U.S. national team player Glenn Myernick with the Colorado Rapids.

A few reactions: Parreira is too defensive-minded and will quickly become frustrated at the quality of MLS play. Kowalski’s personality is a plus, but his main experience is indoors and it could take him time to adapt. Myernick inherits the league’s weakest team and will struggle no matter how hard he tries.

There are new players--including former Scotland national team captain Richard Gough with the Kansas City Wizards and Guatemalan midfielder Martin Machon, who is the object of an intense tug-of-war between the New England Revolution and the Galaxy.

Reaction: Gough is exactly what the league said it would avoid--an elderly, hard-driving British player lacking flair and imagination. Machon is an excellent acquisition and will have immediate impact.

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A question for MLS Commissioner Doug Logan: How is it possible to build the sport in the United States if the country’s own professional teams head abroad at the first opportunity?

During the off-season, the San Jose Clash went to China, which is well and good. D.C. United, the MLS champion, is going to Japan to play the J-League champion. That, too, is well and good.

But why do the MetroStars find it necessary to go to Italy for five weeks of training and exhibition matches? What’s wrong with Florida or California? (Answers limited to 50 words, please.)

Something must be wrong out here, otherwise why would the San Jose Clash and the Galaxy be heading south of the border?

On Thursday, Coach Lothar Osiander’s Galaxy squad set off on its first foreign tour, pulling up stakes at the Rose Bowl and establishing a training camp for a week in Guadalajara, Mexico.

From there, the Galaxy will travel to Bolivia for a game against the Bolivian national team in Santa Cruz and to El Salvador for a match against the Salvadoran national team in San Salvador, before returning to Los Angeles Feb. 24 to resume training at Occidental College.

Regardless of the outcome of those games, the Galaxy’s MLS season hopes have been bolstered by the signing of Eduardo “El Tanque” Hurtado, the team’s top scorer last year.

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Marcelo Balboa became the all-time leader in appearances for the U.S. national team last week when he played in both games against China--a 2-1 loss in Kumming and a 1-1 tie in Guangzhou.

The 29-year-old sweeper from Cerritos has 115 “caps” and appears ready to resume his anchor role in the U.S. defense after being out for more than six months because of a foot injury.

As for his MLS future, Balboa is not sure what the Colorado Rapids have in store for him.

“I’ve been hearing rumors everywhere that I’m coming to L.A., that I might be going to Dallas, so I don’t know,” he said. “Right now, I’m just concerned with getting healthy--which I finally am--getting my fitness back and then going from there. There’s been rumors that I’m going everywhere.”

Balboa said he would welcome the chance to play for the Galaxy.

“It would be nice to play here in L.A. The crowd is great. You can’t complain about playing with Dan [Calichman] and Frase [Robin Fraser] and [Mauricio] Cienfuegos and [Jorge] Campos. And instead of marking ‘El Tanque,’ I get to play with him. It’s not bad. We’ll see. It all depends on what Colorado wants and what the league wants.”

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Balboa’s two games in China moved him ahead of Paul Caligiuri on the all-time list. Caligiuri, of Walnut, has played in 113 games for the national team, but missed both U.S. Cup ’97 and the China tour.

Steve Sampson, the U.S. coach, said Caligiuri’s non-participation in those events had nothing whatsoever to do with the lawsuit he has filed against MLS seeking a transfer from the Columbus Crew to the Galaxy.

“There was absolutely no connection,” Sampson said. “I made it very clear to Paul that the reason he wasn’t coming in for U.S. Cup or China was because I needed to look at other players.”

Caligiuri claims that MLS promised he would be placed in Los Angeles when the league began last year, but instead he was assigned to Columbus.

Osiander said that, as welcome as Caligiuri would be, he doubted whether the league would be willing to pick up the 32-year-old defender’s salary, and the Galaxy certainly could not afford to do so because of the salary cap.

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Two Galaxy players did make the U.S. team’s China trip--Cobi Jones and Calichman--but the latter struggled somewhat, according to Sampson.

“I think he still needs time with the national team,” the coach said. “ ‘Inconsistent performances’ is I guess what I could say [of his play in China]. I know that given more time he probably could do better than what he did. He was sort of under the microscope, but that’s the way it is right now.

“I will not call him in for the Jamaica match [a World Cup ’98 qualifier on March 2], but that does not preclude me from calling him up any time in the future. He’s an intelligent player; he just needs to learn the demands of the international game.”

Soccer Notes

The death late last month of Guillermo Canedo, a FIFA vice president from Mexico, set off an instant and unseemly scramble to fill his position with soccer’s international governing body. Alan Rothenberg, U.S. Soccer Federation president, was one who would have liked the post, but FIFA, acting quickly to stop the politicking, named CONCACAF President Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago to the vice presidency and replaced Warner on the executive committee with CONCACAF general secretary Chuck Blazer of the United States.

There are other moves afoot at FIFA, which will have a new president next year for the first time in more than two decades. President Joao Havelange of Brazil has said he will step down after the France ’98 World Cup, and speculation in Europe is that Lennart Johansson of Sweden, president of UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, is the logical successor. But Johansson hurt his chances with some racially insensitive remarks in South Africa last year, and now a new and potentially formidable candidate has emerged: Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer.

Winner of the World Cup as a player in 1974 and as a coach in 1990, “Der Kaiser” has earned the endorsement of none other than a former New York Cosmos teammate, now Brazil’s minister of sport. “Franz must take the job,” Pele said in an interviews with the Brazilian magazine Focus. “It would be wonderful for football and a great climax to his wonderful career.”

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MLS 1997 First-Round Draft Picks

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No.Name Pos. College MLS Team 1. Tahj Jakins D UCLA Colorado Rapids 2. Mike Fisher M Virginia Tampa Bay Mutiny 3. Rob Jachym M Hartford Columbus Crew 4. Alberto Montoya M Santa Clara San Jose Clash 5. Brian Kelly F Duke NY/NJ MetroStars 6. Temoc Suarez F North Carolina Dallas Burn 7. Brian Johnson M Fresno State Kansas City Wizards 8. Mike Mekelburg M South Florida Tampa Bay Mutiny* 9. Steve Jolley M William & Mary Los Angeles Galaxy 10. Danny Care D Clemson D.C. United

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* The New England Revolution surrendered its pick to Tampa Bay for the right to talk to Coach Thomas Rongen, who later left the Mutiny for the Revolution.


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