A monthly column about the State of U.S. Soccer that takes a hard look at everything from the performance of the U.S. National Teams to pro soccer in the good ‘ole U-S-of-A . If you’re looking for a viewpoint that you won’t see in a generic, nuts-and-bolts U.S. Soccer press release, you’ve come to the right place.
This month, the Armchair Midfielder will handicap the MLS Allocation and Dispersal Drafts and ask the question: Did "the Richers" get Richer, or did MLS turn out to be Robin Hood giving to the Poor? The answer? Yes and no. And yes.
Okay, so for a naysayer/unoriginal soccer basher like "Pardon the Interruption"’s Tony Kornheiser, the elimination of the Tampa Bay Mutiny (still the best team name in MLS) and the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale/South Florida/"you can change the name, but it still won’t matter" Fusion appears on the surface to symbolize a possble chink in the armor for Major League Soccer.
But for us (as well as U.S.) soccer types, it turns out to be an interesting situation that should result in an even higher level of play than 2001. Losing two teams and spreading the talent from the Fusion (and Mutiny, but to a lesser extent) around the 10 teams has turned the 2002 MLS season on its side. In a year where many clubs will be losing some marquee players to the 2002 World Cup for most of May and June, it will be nice to count on that extra star power that most teams received via the Allocation and Dispersal Drafts in early January.
So who won big? At this point, it appears the Colorado Rapids, New England Revolution and New York/New Jersey MetroStars (yes, I still use their original, if not a little tacky full team name) made out like bandits.
The Rapids did well in acquiring promising defensive midfielder Pablo Mastroeni and up-and-down left-sided midfielder Mark Chung, but I just don’t get trading away their Ironman Marcelo Balboa, one of Colorado’s few bright spots over the last few years. Sure, this was a salary cap move, but Balboa is an icon who was synonymous with Colorado and will be sorely missed. Bringing back the popular Chris Henderson (albeit in a similar role as Chung) to shore up the midfield may make 2001 MVP and 2002 captain John Spencer happy, but without former Rapids stalwart Balboa in the middle for the Raging Rivers, there will undoubtedly be a lot of pressure on Mastroeni to fill that role.
The Revs may be following in the footsteps of their Super Bowl-winning Foxboro co-tenants, adding an almost criminal amount of dynamic players to make themselves the early favorite for an MLS Cup title come October. With three golden picks in the Allocation Draft, they did well to fill their most sought-after position in the off-season by grabbing temperamental but terrific striker Mamadou Diallo. Then came All-Stars Steve Ralston and Carlos Llamosa. And if that wasn’t enough, they still found a way to snatch up defensive midfield bulldog Jim Rooney and steal league MVP Alex Pineda Chachon in the Dispersal Draft. The Revolution desperately needed the help in an effort the bring their loyal fans out to the new Foxboro Stadium, and it looks like they got it and then some. And then some more.
The MetroStars filled their long-vacant role of a consistent striker with the acquisition of Diego "The Playa Ya Love to Hate" Serna. With another decent year from second-year forward and 2001 MLS Rookie of the Year Rodrigo Faria and the return of perennial MVP candidate and quarterback Clint Mathis, the Metros could be one of the more exciting and high-flying teams in the league. Add Balboa, who will undoubtedly provide much-valued experience to the youthful backline, to the promising skills of defenders Mike Petke and Steve Jolley, not to mention 2001 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Tim Howard and you have a solid challenger in NYC in 2002.
Now for the losers: What was Kansas City thinking by taking the 40-something (okay, 38-year-old) Preki out of all the players available in the draft? Didn’t they dump him just over a year ago after he led them to an improbable 2000 MLS Cup title? The grumblings that were uttered behind closed doors at Arrowhead Stadium (i.e., "Preki doesn’t play defense." and "Preki is more of a hindrance to the team than a help") have now miraculously transformed into glowing compliments (i.e., "Preki is a proven champion." and "Preki is the key to our attack."). Maybe it’s a move to reach out to the fans that the talented Mr. Radosavljevic garnered in his five years in the Heartland, but it may be too little too late. For me, the Wizards won’t be the same without Vitalis "Digital" Takawira, Scott "the Terrier" Uderitz and Uche "Nobody knows I scored the first bicycle kick goal in MLS history" Okafor. But I digress...
The Columbus Crew selected only slightly better than average defenders Eric Denton and Brian Dunseth to restock their defense along with Chad McCarty, who was picked up days later in the MLS Waiver Draft. Sure, Dunseth and McCarty teamed well for years for the U.S. Youth National Teams and McCarty showed well in the 2000 Olympics, but I don’t know if I’d count on those three to take the team to the promised land in 2002 or years to come.
All in all, MLS appears to have turned a negative into a positive by refocusing the business plan and injecting some needed excitement into the league in Year Seven.
Table of Contents
In this second issue of 2002 of U.S. Soccer’s monthly fan newsletter / e-zine, you’ll find pieces on a pair of CyberRays, a pair of Gold Cup 2002 champions, a pair of MLS Drafts and a pair of Women’s National Team coaches in the eight items listed below. Some will return next month, others will be brand spankin’ new for March.
1) Armchair Midfielder (A Look at the MLS Allocation and Dispersal Drafts)
2) DJ for a Day (w/ MNT defender Pablo Mastroeni)
3) Queries and Anecdotes (w/ MNT forward Josh Wolff)
4) Making it in the Show (w/ WNT goalkeeper LaKeyshia Beene)
5) Superstar!!! (w/ WNT defender Brandi Chastain)
6) Mark That Calendar (MNT vs. Italy -- Feb. 13)
7) Point/Counterpoint (w/ current WNT coach April Heinrichs & former WNT coach Tony DiCicco)
8) "You Don’t Know Jack (Marshall)" (MLS Draft trivia)
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