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Day at a Glance

Practice makes perfect for MLS Cup final

Click here for more on this story

Posted: Saturday November 20, 1999 06:39 PM

  Marco Etcheverry Marco Etcheverry, a key part of D.C. United's offensive attack, has a knack of playing well in big games. Scott Halleran/Allsport

By Jeff Green, CNN/SI

FOXBORO, Massachusetts -- D.C. United and the Los Angeles Galaxy took the field at Foxboro Stadium on a rainy Saturday afternoon for their final practices, with one last chance to prepare for Sunday's championship showdown between Major League Soccer's best offense and its best defense.

Under coach Sigi Schmid, who took over a 3-3 team six games into the 1999 season, Los Angeles became the first team in MLS history to allow less than one goal per game on average, giving up just 29 goals in 32 games. D.C. United, on the other hand, led the league in goals scored with 65.

Both coaches say their strategy is to go on the attack and put the other team on its heels, a responsibility that often lies with the home team. Sunday, however, there is no home team, though D.C. has taken on the role of the favorite.

"Our key is to make them defend us as much as possible, and I think they want to do the same thing," said United head coach Thomas Rongen. "So it's a very interesting chess matchup right now. It will be interesting to see who makes the first move."

D.C. had the league's sixth-best defense this year, giving up 1.34 goals per game, while L.A. had the league's fifth-best offense, scoring 49 goals. Of course, it's only been one year since L.A. shattered the league's record for goals in a season, netting 85 in 1998.

United leads the all-time series between the teams 8-4, including a 1-0 playoff record -- the one playoff game being MLS Cup '96.

Rongen said L.A. could draw some motivation from its loss in MLS Cup '96 to D.C. at Foxboro.

"L.A.'s got a little redemption, I think," Rongen said. "They've got something they can really take and focus on."

Schmid outlined what he thinks is most important for L.A. on Sunday.

"The keys to the game are trying to contain [Marco] Etcheverry, and also being able to keep a handle on Jaime Moreno and Lassiter's speed. And trying to get opportunies where D.C. United's back four has to deal with our attack on a consistent basis," he said. "It's a matter of us maintaining possession, and it's a matter of us sometimes looking to attack quickly when that opportunity presents itself and creating matchups that are to our benefit."

Rongen said his club must be concerned with L.A.'s multiple attacking options.

"We analyzed L.A. and looked at some of their strengths and weaknesses," said Rongen. "Cobi [Jones] is explosive up front with pure speed, [Carlos] Hermosillo is a good finisher. The dribble penetration of Clint Mathis and Roy Myers obviously is a concern. Cien [Mauricio Cienfuegos] is playing well right now."

On Saturday night, MLS will host its annual gala awards dinner in Boston to honor the league's Best 11, or all-league team, and D.C. and L.A. are both almost sure to be represented. L.A. already boasts the league's goalkeeper of the year in Kevin Hartman and its defender of the year, Robin Fraser. D.C.'s Marco Etcheverry is looking for his fourth-straight appearance on the Best 11.

Storylines We're Following

The Weather
There's a sense of relief around MLS Cup headquarters with regard to weather reports for Sunday. Many had feared the worst when the league schedule its title match for late November in New England, especially with memories still fresh from MLS Cup '96. That October match was played in monsoon-like conditions in front of 34,643 fans. For this Sunday, an early chance of showers is expected to abate by afternoon, helping the prospect of a sizable walk-up crowd in addition to the 40,000 tickets already sold for the 58,000-seat facility.

Diego Sonora
United coach Thomas Rongen has said he will start second-year defender Carey Talley at right back in place of Argentine Diego Sonora, who is listed as probable on the injury report and has been practicing despite a left leg contusion. Rongen said the decision was based on a number of factors, including Talley's strong play against Columbus last week and a need for a greater physical presence because of Foxboro's narrow field. Sonora's contact with MLS expires after Sunday, and he is not expected to renew.
 

Players to Watch

Marco Etcheverry
The Bolivian playmaker is D.C.'s most important player and the league's most valuable player over its four-year history. A fixture on the all-league team, El Diablo tops the league's all-time assist list, and he is the provider for high-scoring forwards Jaime Moreno and especially the speedy Roy Lassiter. And on top of that, he seems to perform at his best in big games. "He's magic," said Crew coach Tom Fitzgerald, after Etcheverry's three-assist, one-goal performance knocked the Crew out of the playoffs.

Mauricio Cienfuegos
After successfully holding out early this year for more money, Cienfuegos got off to what was for him a relatively slow start. But the Salvadoran playmaker had a strong second half of the season, and will serve as the crucial link between L.A.'s defense and its forwards -- if he can get past United defensive midfielder Richie Williams. Cienfuegos is third on the MLS all-time assist list, and L.A. counts on him to make the final pass in front of goal. The addition of midfielder Roy Myers and the presence of young Clint Mathis have helped take some pressure off Cienfuegos.

Bandwagon

Don Garber Just over three months after he replaced Doug Logan, the new commissioner is the most popular man in soccer. Since MLS made changes that included banning the shootout this week, he's drawn raves from observers ranging from Miami Fusion investor-operator Ken Horowitz to the sought-after "hard-core fans" communicating on the Internet. To a man, players have also supported the changes.
Soccer Saturday MLS announed a realigned television schedule this week for 1999. The English-language programming schedule with ESPN/espn2/ABC is designed to bring in more viewers by adding a consistent time slot -- thus, "Soccer Saturdays." The league will also have a weekly highlights show on espn2 on Mondays at 11 p.m., from June to September. The league had seen more promising rating for its Spanish-language broadcasts in a consistent Sunday-afternoon slot.
The never-ending season A grueling nine months have passed since players reported for what ranks as the longest season in professional sports. It's a problem that has already been addressed, however, as MLS said yesterday that a compressed 32-game schedule would end a month earlier than this year, with MLS Cup set for five weeks earlier -- October 15 at either Tampa or D.C.


 
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