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Friday at a Glance

All-Stars practice while MLS board plots future

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Latest: Friday July 28, 2000 03:04 PM

  Mike Clark Mike Clark is getting ready with his fellow stars for MLS' All-Star Game. Joe Giblin/Allsport

By Jeff Green, CNNSI.com

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- As Major League Soccer's All-Star players gathered for their first -- and last -- practice together Friday morning in the name of fun, the league's Board of Governors came together for an all-day meeting that undoubtedly will score lower on the fun-meter.

The board consists of a representative from each of the league's investors. Comparable to a corporate board of directors, it has the authority to establish all significant policies for the league.

The board meeting was to break before noon for a luncheon, highlighted by MLS Commissioner Don Garber's state-of-the-league address to the media.

On the agenda for the board meeting, Garber said Thursday, are issues related to marketing, scheduling, television and the league's partnership with the WUSA, the women's professional league set to kick off next spring.

MLS Board of Governors
Representative  Affiliation 
Sunil Gulati  San Jose Earthquakes 
Kenneth Horowitz  Miami Fusion 
Clark Hunt  Kansas City Wizards 
Lamar Hunt  Columbus Crew 
Roy Kline  Colorado Rapids 
Jonathan Kraft  New England Revolution 
Tim Leiweke  L.A. Galaxy 
Kevin Payne  D.C. United 
Alan Rothenberg  MLS Investor 
Robert Sanderman  Chicago Fire 
Stuart Subotnick  MetroStars 
Haruyuki Takahashi  Sports Culture
Excellence, Inc. 
 
 

Among the big topics Garber didn't mention was expansion. However, the WUSA -- owned largely by cable television companies -- and MLS have had discussions about operating expansion teams in markets important to both leagues. In May, Garber said the leagues would "spend the next few months finalizing the details for a specific expansion market."

On Thursday, Garber said that a "major marketing study" had been completed and would become part of the league's "five-year strategic plan," which is not yet complete.

"I think this league will start planning a lot more than it had in the past," he said. "We don't want to react. We want to really put some things together so we can be out ahead of decisions that we make.

"[The meeting] is really to talk about some strategic issues. We've done a lot of research on our fan base; we're going to communicate that to our ownership," he said. "We're going to talk about some grass-roots ideas that we have for connecting to the soccer fan.

According to a report by CNNSI.com's Michael Lewis on Thursday, the board will consider cutting the schedule by four games, from 32 games to 28.

Garber said the board would consider a variety of issues related to scheduling -- "the length of the schedule, the number of weekday vs. weekend games, where we start, what time of the year we start, whether it's in March or April."

Staring down at more than 4,000 fans cheering for the All-Star Pro Skills Challenge on Thursday at Columbus Crew Stadium, Garber was already prepared to proclaim All-Star weekend a success.

"We sold out this stadium [for fans] to come see our players without their game faces on, to come and have some fun, and showcase and highlight our sport in a fun and friendly environment," Garber said of Saturday's All-Star Game. "That's a very positive thing. Our All-Star Game hasn't sold out before, so we're very excited about that. And we think we've got a pretty good model, with the Newcastle game Wednesday.

"The goal really is to have fun and to celebrate the game, to take the helmets off our players, as we used to say at the NFL, and showcase them in a fun environment," he said.

"Fun," said MetroStars forward Clint Mathis, is the key word for Friday's practices at Columbus Crew Stadium, as East coach Octavio Zambrano and West coach Bob Gansler of the Kansas City Wizards get their only training sessions with the players.

"I think the guys are just going to go out there and try to have a little fun" at practice, said Mathis. "That's what this weekend's all about. No wind sprints.

"When you go out there and the whistle blows, I think everybody knows what to do."

Practice, he added, is "just to get out there and knock the ball around."

And the goal of Saturday's game?

"Mainly to have fun. That's what this is all about," he said. "Of course, you go out there to win, but the main thing is just to have fun, and that's what you always should do."

Storylines We're Following

All-Star curse, cont.
One more All-Star has been scratched from the lineup due to injury, and one of the top vote-getters may not play. Joining MetroStars defender Daniel Hernandez and L.A. Galaxy goalkeeper Kevin Hartman on the injured list is New England Revolution midfielder Ted Chronopoulos, who will rest a strained right calf. D.C. United's Bolivian playmaker Marco Etcheverry -- plagued by a knee injury this year -- is listed as doubtful, but could still see some action.

All-Star selection process
The starters are picked by the fans; the reserves are picked by the All-Star coaches, and the commissioner appoints one player to each team. Is it the best method? Last year's MLS MVP, Dallas Burn forward Jason Kreis, doesn't necessarily think so. "I am concerned about it if Lothar Matthäus is a starter," he told the Dallas Morning News. "How many games has he played this season?" A reserve this year, Kreis told the paper the selection process is more of an issue because the league pays a monetary bonus to players who make the All-Star teams.
 

Players to Watch

Brian McBride
McBride hasn't played since fracturing his cheek June 17 -- which kept him out of two World Cup qualifiers for the U.S. -- but the Crew forward could make his return during the All-Star Game. "I've been cleared to play probably 20 to 30 minutes," McBride told the Columbus Dispatch. "Since it's the All-Star Game, I probably could get away with it." A special commissioner's pick for this year's All-Star Game, McBride will also be represented by "Lego McBride," a life-size model traveling in the LEGO/MLS Soccer Experience.

Lothar Matthäus
If the legendary German libero plays Saturday, will it be his last MLS appearance? He has played part of only one game due to injury since returning from Euro 2000, and his future with the team was ostensibly resolved in two recent meetings with MLS and MetroStars officials, who said he'd have to work his way back into the lineup. Despite playing in just 10 of 22 games for the MetroStars this year, Matthäus was voted into the East starting lineup by fans.

Bandwagon
Silver lining Perhaps East coach Octavio Zambrano consulted All-Star Jay Heaps when he needed to replace Chronopoulos and Hernandez. Asked on Thursday who he would pick if All-Stars were simply selected from the entire league by two captains, Heaps tabbed teammate Pablo Mastroeni, a defensive midfielder. In fact, Mastroeni will be joining the East squad, raising the Fusion's All-Star representation to two. Also selected was Columbus Crew defender Mike Clark, a selection sure to please the hosts.
Full house MLS officials have been overwhelmingly positive about the reception All-Star weekend has received in Columbus, including the league's first All-Star Game sellout. Garber said the league would not return to the formula used in the past two All-Star Games, which were staged in non-MLS cities -- San Diego in 1999 and Orlando the year before. "Our goal is to really give this jewel of an event to our team markets and have them really try to make the most of it."
Corporate synergy Apparently the ugly result of Major League Soccer's corporate partnership with ABC/Disney, Saturday's pre-game entertainment will feature the as-yet-unnamed pop quartet spawned by ABC's Friday night series "Making the Band." Singing the national anthem a capella will be Ikaika Kahoano, Bryan Chan and Mike Miller from "Making the Band" and Matt Morrison from Broadway's "Footloose."


 
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