All-Star Game pilgrimage yields insight on Utah's coach, Adu and Lalas
Posted: Tuesday August 3, 2004 8:07PM; Updated: Tuesday August 3, 2004 8:07PM
Steve Sampson and captain Tom Dooley led the U.S. to a disappointing finish in the 1998 World Cup.
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
You never know what you'll see at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C.
Back in the late 1980s, the Mayflower was where D.C. mayor Marion Barry would join his lady friends for hijinks and a little Colombian Marching Powder. (Like us, Barry was an Eagle Scout, though for some reason the Boy Scouts of America has removed him from its "Distinguished Eagles" literature. Go figure.)
Anyway, times have changed at the Mayflower, but you still encounter all sorts of intriguing stuff -- particularly if you're a soccer reporter hanging out in the lobby during MLS All-Star Weekend.
Aside from the happy news that Paul Caligiuri has cut his hair, we picked up some other things, too:
Utah coaching search narrows
Dean Howes, the CEO of the Utah expansion team debuting next spring, interviewed two coaching candidates for two hours each on Thursday at the Mayflower: U.S. under-17 coach John Ellinger and U.S. under-20 coach Thomas Rongen. Howes tells me he has also made plans to interview U.S. under-23 coach Glenn Myernick and former U.S. senior coach Steve Sampson.
"Those are the four we're farthest along with," Howes says. "I think we're lucky that they're available, because some of them have turned down MLS jobs in the past."
Another source close to the situation says the Salt Lake City-born Sampson is the favorite. Sampson, who has not coached in MLS, guided the U.S. to a fourth-place finish in the 1995 Copa América and qualification for World Cup '98, but he was fired after three first-round defeats. He was recently dismissed as Costa Rica's national team coach.
The most surprising participant is Ellinger, who led the U.S. (with Freddy Adu, Eddie Gaven, Jonathan Spector and Danny Szetela) to a fifth-place finish at last year's Under-17 World Championship. Known for his role in developing Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley and Bobby Convey, Ellinger has often ruled out MLS jobs, saying he was happy with his gig at the U.S. under-17 residency program in Bradenton, Fla. (where he and his wife bought a house).
Now, Ellinger says, he's interested in MLS.
"No question," he tells me. "Expansion intrigues me because you can get your own group together. But whoever tries to match Bob Bradley [who guided the expansion Chicago Fire to MLS Cup '98] has a tall order. What made Bob so successful was that he got quality allocated players who provided leadership."
The three candidates besides Sampson all have MLS experience. Ellinger was an assistant with Columbus in 1996. Myernick, who ran the ill-fated U.S. 2004 Olympic qualifying effort, was fired by Colorado after going 67-68-5 between 1997 and 2000 and leading the Rapids to the '97 title game. Rongen won MLS Cup '99 with D.C. United but was let go in 2001 after posting an 82-90-8 mark with United and Tampa Bay.
Adu takes stock, wants to get stockier
I've been careful not to overdo it on the Freddy Adu coverage this season, refraining since my preseason story in SI mag, but the All-Star break seemed like a good time to catch up with the 15-year-old phenom, who's on a nice run of late. (Check out this week's SI to see a one-page update.)
A couple things that don't appear in the SI piece:
Adu wants to bulk up from 140 pounds to "155, close to 160" for next year. "That's doable," Adu says. "A lot of players in Europe aren't as tall as the other guys, so they have to be stocky to physically compete."
Adu thinks the decline in the media crush is a good thing. "I've been focusing more on soccer and playing much better," he says. "Now I'm comfortable that if it starts picking up again because I'm playing well, that's cool. I wouldn't mind that. But if it's there when you're going through a period when things aren't going well, it's tough to enjoy it. You don't feel like you should be there."
He's learning how to deal with rough patches. "We go through tough spells, and it's up to you to take something out of it," Adu says. "Some people take the good out of it, some people just fall off the radar. I've taken something good out of it, and I really feel like I'm knocking at the door right now."
Got a chance to share a cold beverage at the Mayflower with Alexi Lalas, the former U.S. star who's now the first-year GM of the San Jose Earthquakes. As usual, the bearded one wasn't bashful. Here are a few highlights of our conversation:
On today's U.S. players: "The current generation of players that we have are very good soccer players. I think they need to take much more ownership of the league and the future of the sport. They have to sell the game. This is entertainment, on and off the field. Where are the personalities? All sports, including MLS, have success when they create personalities. For better or for worse, as soccer players they're great. As personalities I think we've got a bum crop right now."
On his new job: "I wish the players could go through the experience I've been through in the past six months. Every day I learn something new. The reality I've been exposed to is sobering, but it's also very enlightening. Most players don't think about the work and the commitment to generate the crowds, and the challenges the individual markets and staffs have. This is as big a challenge, if not more so, than anything I ever did on the field. And I want to be successful."
On reaching the Hispanic market: "I think L.A. has done a wonderful job providing entertainment for everybody, including the Hispanic market that is so important not only to California but everywhere. And they're only continuing with Chivas USA. I think we as the Earthquakes have done a piss-poor job. Part of it is the undeniable fact that the Hispanic audience wants to see something on the field that they can relate to. ... Right now we don't offer on the field a product that they can appreciate in terms of giving them an individual to identify with, and off the field we're not doing enough to show that the Earthquakes as a soccer team are part of their community. It's a challenge."
On soccer-specific stadiums: "Soccer-specific stadiums? It's a bad, bad name. For selling what we're trying to sell to people, it hurts us. Because people don't understand that these stadiums we're talking about are multipurpose. Yes, they are created for soccer fans and teams, and yes, soccer is the major tenant. But in the span of a month in the Home Depot Center you can see the L.A. Galaxy play, you can see Dave Matthews, you can see the X-Games. Once I tell people what these stadiums are, and once I get past the soccer part and explain all these other events that can happen there, their eyes light up. It's a whole different world."
On the future of the Quakes: "The future of the San Jose Earthquakes is directly dependent on our ability to get a soccer-specific stadium. Only I'm going to call it a soccer-slash-entertainment venue. I believe the Bay Area should be a part of MLS. If I had my own inflatable stadium, I'd love to put it as close to San Francisco as possible. I think we lose out on a tremendous fanbase that looks at San Jose as the other side of the moon and doesn't want to come south and make the trip. We have a wonderful base of fans in San Jose that have supported the team for many years, but the fact is we play in a 77-year-old stadium that doesn't offer us the soccer environment, and more importantly the revenue, that we need to survive and thrive. If it makes sense from a business standpoint, we'll definitely stay in the Bay Area. If we can't, and there's another area committed to doing that, then we'll do that. If there's somebody who wants to buy the team and do whatever he or she wants with it, then we'll look at that, too. There's a lot of different possibilities, and nothing has been decided."
Is it just me, or is the MetroStars' Amado Guevara starting to look like an MVP favorite? For all the carping about Sergio Galvan Rey in MetroLand, let's remember how special Guevara has turned out to be. (Though I can't help but wonder if the fans of Libertadores champ Once Caldas are mentioning the Ewing Theory down in Colombia following Rey's departure.) ...
A source close to Jorge Vergara's 2005 expansion team says its official name will be Club Deportivo Chivas USA and it will be known as "Chivas USA." Not surprising, but word had spread that the team might choose a different name before starting play ... Univision Sports prez David Downs told me his network might consider a deal with MLS again now that Chivas USA is up and running. Judging by the vocal fan support at the Chivas press conference Monday, that might not be a bad idea ...
Most intriguing part of the All-Star Game? No contest: It had to be the serial encounters between Dallas's Ronnie O'Brien and D.C.'s Dema Kovalenko. With bad blood remaining a year after Kovalenko's tackle put O'Brien out for the season (O'Brien says Kovalenko never apologized for breaking his leg), Kovalenko got the upper hand on two occasions Saturday. Not only did Kovalenko clear O'Brien's sure goal off the line, but he also drew a penalty on O'Brien, which led to Guevara's second goal of the day ...
Any neutral fan has to cringe when they see that ESPN's national MLS game involves Columbus for the second straight week. The only teams I really enjoy watching these days are Los Angeles, San Jose, Kansas City and the MetroStars. It would be fantastic if that list grew between now and season's end ...
Several execs around MLS are questioning the wisdom of Dallas' plan to announce its new team name and colors on Aug. 12, two months before the end of the season. While the change will give the team more time to build the hype for next year's move to a new stadium in Frisco, Tex., it severely undercuts the "Burn" name for the rest of this season. Our suggestion: adopt a temporary name (the Lame Ducks?) for the stretch run ...
I still don't get why MetroStars fans think an injustice was done in the Danny Szetela Affair. With Szetela's mother, Krystyna, blasting MLS and agent Ron Waxman saying Szetela would have signed with Everton had he known Columbus would keep him, it makes me wonder: Didn't they realize there was an 84 percent chance that Metro wouldn't win the lottery? Or that the team that did win wouldn't be forced to trade Szetela to the Metros? It all comes down to leverage, which Szetela himself lost through the mishandling of his European offers ...
In his role as Bruce Arena's assistant, Myernick is on a lengthy roadtrip in Europe, meeting with the Yanks' Euro-based players and their club coaches to make sure everyone's on the same page with the schedule for World Cup qualifying. Myernick is also using the trip to judge players' current form before the U.S. meets Jamaica on Aug. 18.
Opening the 'Bag...
Only got time for a couple this week:
Grant Wahl will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
You pay respect to the A-League teams that have beaten MLS squads in the U.S. Open Cup, but what does this say about the level of MLS play? Sure, there will be some losses, but this is a disgraceful performance as MLS is trying to claim that it is moving closer to the quality of European leagues, no? --T. Faust, Brooklyn, N.Y.
All credit in the world to the four A-League teams that made the O.C. quarterfinals on Wednesday. I'm not ready to say that it means the sky is falling for MLS teams, however. If we accept that the motivation to win is already low during the MLS regular season, it's even lower for the Open Cup, which obviously doesn't have the status, following or $$$ relative to the MLS title that the FA Cup has to the Premier League title in England. Someday I hope it does.
I see you hail Bobby Convey's transfer to Reading as a good move for his career. Are you saying that you think English First Division soccer is a higher caliber than MLS? That would strike me as a huge rap on the U.S. league. --John Harris, Fairfax, Va.
Clearly it would have been better if Convey's transfer to Premier League Spurs had gone through last year. But the move to Reading should be a positive one for him. We could argue all day about the quality of MLS vs. the First Division, but Convey's new contract undeniably pays him better than his MLS deal did, and he'll be under far more pressure to produce at Reading than he was with United. One hopes the atmosphere will help Convey improve, which had not happened over the past year as he dealt with the Spurs disappointment.
See you next week from Athens. Any questions, news tips or thoughtful comments, put 'em above.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Grant Wahl keeps you up to date with the world of U.S. soccer at SI.com.