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Day at a Glance
League's wishes granted with MLS Cup matchup
Posted: Friday November 19, 1999 02:42 PM
MLS officials are keeping a close eye on weather reports, hoping to avoid a repeat of MLS Cup '96. Simon Bruty/Allsport
By Jeff Green, CNN/SI
BOSTON, Mass. (CNN/SI) -- The stage is set, and the actors are in place.
Major League Soccer got the dramatic, marquee MLS Cup '99 matchup it was hoping for, and on a gray Friday morning, the teams took to their respective fields for their final hard training sessions of the season.
The first-ever MLS Cup rematch Sunday at Foxboro Stadium pits D.C. United against the Los Angeles Galaxy, the top two teams of the current season and the winningest teams in the four-year history of the league.
"I think D.C. United and the Galaxy have been the teams over the four years that have been the most consistent," Galaxy coach Sigi Schmid told the L.A. Times. "It's a good matchup."
Four years ago, in a downpour at the inaugural MLS Cup at Foxboro, United recovered from a two-goal deficit in the final 20 minutes to defeat the Galaxy in sudden-death overtime, and from there the two teams embarked on different paths. United advanced to both subsequent championship games, defeating Colorado for the title in 1997 and falling to the expansion Chicago Fire in 1998.
After being knocked out of the playoffs in the first round in 1997 and second round in 1998, a resurrected Galaxy club advanced to MLS Cup this year after former UCLA coach Schmid took over the slumping squad from Octavio Zambrano.
Despite firing two coaches in four seasons, the Galaxy has accumulated the second-best record in MLS history. D.C. (84-44, .656) and L.A. (79-49, .617) are the only two teams in the league with all-time records above .600, and two of only three -- along with Dallas -- with better than a .500 record.
After Friday's practices, both teams climbed aboard buses and headed for the World Trade Center on Boston's Inner Harbor for the league's MLS Cup Press Conference and Luncheon.
One star of that show, however, plays for neither United nor the Galaxy -- the Dallas Burn's Jason Kreis was honored as the league's Most Valuable Player. Kreis, 26, is the first U.S.-born player to win the award, beating out the other two finalists: D.C.'s Marco Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno. Kreis recently signed a long-term contract with MLS.
Also announced Friday was the signing of new sponsor Lego -- which, along with recent renewals by sponsors Budweiser, Honda and Pepsi -- gives MLS new sponsorships worth some $40 million. More deals are expected by mid-December that could bring the total to more than $80 million.
MLS commissioner Don Garber said at the press conference that the league would play a condensed 32-game regular-season schedule, ending on Sept. 10, and a best-of-three format in the playoffs with MLS Cup on Oct. 15.
Capping off the day will be a concert at a Boston nightclub by Nectar Drop, the band fronted by recently retired MLS star Alexi Lalas. MLS Cup weekend gives a glimpse into the post-soccer life of Lalas, 29, who will also be part of the on-air crew for Sunday's network television broadcast.
| Storylines We're
MLS officials are keeping a close eye on weather reports, hoping to avoid a repeat of MLS Cup '96, where a Nor'Easter storm dumped nine inches of rain in the 24 hours leading up to the game. Depsite the monsoon, 34,643 fans showed up. Forecasts for Sunday call for highs from 52-60 degrees. Cloudy skies are expected with a chance for showers early in the day. Sunshine is possible for the afternoon.
MLS officials already are declaring Sunday's final a success in terms of attendance. Approximately 40,000 tickets have been sold despite the fact that the local team, the New England Revolution, did not make the playoffs.
UCLA vs. Virginia
MLS may be only four years old, but the rivalries on the field Sunday will extend beyond the league's short history. Eight of the players on L.A.'s playoff roster played at UCLA, while 10 of United's players attended college soccer powerhouse Virginia.
| Players to Watch
While Etcheverry grabs the headlines with his offensive exploits, Richie Williams deserves much of the credit for his defensive work in central midfield. The pesky Williams has become a regular call-up for the U.S. national team under former United coach Bruce Arena. Williams will be charged with shutting down Mauricio Cienfuegos, the equally diminutive Salvadoran midfielder who orchestrates L.A.'s attack.
Pena once turned down a call-up from the U.S. national team to remain with the Galaxy. More than anyone else, the tenacious defensive midfielder bears responsibility for one of L.A. coach Sigi Schmid's keys to victory: shutting down United midfielder Etcheverry.
| Bandwagon |
| De-Americanization of the game
|| MLS officials say the response to Wednesday's rule changes has been almost entirely positive. Answering the calls of "hard-core fans," MLS banned the shootout tiebreaker and returned official timekeeping to the referee on the field. "We are part of the most popular game in the world, and we should play by the rules the rest of the world plays by, said MLS commissioner Don Garber. |
| Sigi Schmid ||
The long-time UCLA soccer coach took over the Galaxy in April and injected life into a demoralized squad, going 17-9. Schmid was named MLS Coach of the Year in his first season guiding professional players. |
| The pitch
|| Becoming a bigger issue than the weather this year is the small size of the playing field. Foxboro's pitch measures 106 yards long by 68 yards wide. "It's the smallest field we've played on," said L.A. coach Sigi Schmid. "But at least I think you have two teams that can deal with tight spaces." |
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