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Saturday at a Glance
MLS players taking offense at All-Star Game
Latest: Saturday July 29, 2000 01:02 PM
By Jeff Green, CNNSI.com
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Major League Soccer has tweaked its message.
In his All-Star week state-of-the-league address, commissioner Don Garber said that the league's goal "is to be among the best soccer leagues in the world."
On Saturday, he will at least have one of the best All-Star Games of any professional league in the world. That's because the only other division one league that has one is the J-League in Japan, MLS officials said. World soccer's governing body, FIFA, does stage charity games featuring stars from multiple leagues, such as an Aug. 16 match in Marseilles pitting world and European champions France against a team of World Stars.
After recovering from Friday night's industry bash at the Smith Brothers Hardware building in downtown Columbus (which featured an "under-construction" theme in honor of the Crew's construction-worker logo, with tools and paint rollers scattered about the tables alongside the free food and drinks), players will convene Saturday with but one aspect of the game in the spotlight: offense.
The standing-room-only crowd expected at Columbus Crew Stadium (3:30 p.m. ET; ABC) need not worry about a nil-nil draw Saturday. The previous four MLS All-Star Games have averaged 7.75 goals, with last year's match at San Diego being the highest-scoring -- a 6-4 win for the West over the East.
Don't expect much stifling defensive strategy from the coaches, either.
"For coaches, on a weekend like this, it's a matter of staying out of the way," said West coach Bob Gansler. "For a coach, it's always good to be surrounded by good players.
"It's really all about them this weekend and what they want to show to the fans," the Wizards' boss said.
And the score?
"Six-four sounds good."
East coach Octavio Zambrano sounded a similar note.
"It's time to get out of the way and let the boys play," said the MetroStars coach.
An abundance of attacking talent will be on display. The West midfield, for instance, includes Mauricio Cienfuegos (L.A.), Preki (Kansas City), Khodadad Azizi (San Jose) and Peter Nowak (Chicago).
"All of these guys can really play," said Colorado's Swedish playmaker Anders Limpar, a reserve for the West.
MLS has not yet selected the site of next year's All-Star Game, though Dallas, San Jose and Los Angeles have expressed interest in hosting.
| Storylines We're
All-Star curse, part III
D.C. United's Bolivian playmaker Marco Etcheverry won't play in the All-Star Game because of a knee injury that has plagued him all season . "The last thing he needs is extra time on the field right now," D.C. general manager Kevin Payne told the Washington Post. "He's got a little bit of a cartilage problem, and each time he plays it gets aggravated for several days." Etcheverry placed second among all players in fan voting for the All-Star starters, behind only Mutiny midfielder Carlos Valderrama.
Follow the bouncing ball
Commissioner Garber announced Friday that Kappa would replace Mitre as the official MLS game ball in 2001. The league's All-Stars will play with a virtually all-white Kappa ball on Saturday, and MLS will let fans pick the eventual design of the game ball through a poll on its Web site.
MLS has so far failed to reach an agreement on the sale of D.C. United's operating rights to New York investment firm E.M. Warburg, Pincus and Co., a transaction that has been many months in the making. "It's not solved yet," Garber told the Washington Post. "We don't have an answer as to why it's taking so long at this point. We just hope to get it finalized soon. Nothing has changed; we just haven't closed yet."
Homes of their own
L.A. Galaxy investor-operator Philip Anschutz presented his stadium plans to the MLS Board of Governors on Friday. The proposed $100 million complex in Carson, Calif., would include a 20,000-seat soccer stadium (expandable to 29,000) and top-class tennis, track and field and cycling facilities. The Galaxy is attempting to lure Pete Sampras to become involved with the tennis facility. Anschutz, among the richest men in America, is also the investor-operator of the Colorado Rapids and the Chicago Fire -- two other teams that, along with the MetroStars, have discussed building their own stadiums. The Galaxy is among those interested in bidding for the U.S. Soccer Federation's national training facility.
| Players to Watch
In a game that supposed to be about fun and entertainment, can Major League Soccer's hard men take it easy Saturday? MetroStars defender Mike Petke said he'll have to change his approach. "It's going to be very offensive," Petke told the Columbus Dispatch in a statement that could be interpreted two ways. "Even on a 50-50 ball, I'll shy away." Petke received a red card in a 4-2 win over the Miami Fusion last Saturday for a tackle on Miami Fusion midfielder Martin Machon. Petke said after the game that it had been "a 50-50 ball," though it appeared closer to 90-10.
The Kansas City Wizards midfielder is the only player to earn a point in all four MLS All-Star Games. Last year he earned MVP honors after scoring two goals and adding an assist, becoming the first player to score two goals in an All-Star Game. His four goals and 11 points are the most by anyone in All-Star play.
| Bandwagon |
| Worst to first
Who would have predicted that the All-Star coaches would be Bob Gansler and Octavio Zambrano? The All-Star coaching staffs were chosen from the East and West teams with the league's best records on July 9. The story was drastically different last year, when the Wizards finished at 8-24 and were saved from being the worst team in the entire league only by the laughingstock MetroStars (7-25).
| Columbus Crew Stadium ||
The players won't be the only star of the show on Saturday. The Crew and investor-operator Lamar Hunt were awarded the All-Star Game (and the 2001 MLS Cup) as a reward for building their own stadium. Though Saturday's crowd will be roughly the same size as last year's at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego (23,227), the impression will be markedly different without last year's 40,000 empty seats, highlighting why it is a league priority for teams to have more appropriately sized stadiums. "There's no sweeter words in the world for somebody who's in the sports business than 'standing room only,'" said Hunt.
| First to worst
They might have four starters on the East All-Star squad (down from seven last year), but they've also got the worst record in the league. After winning three of the four MLS titles, D.C. United's fall from grace is not yet mathematically complete, but a couple more losses and Thomas Rongen's team will miss the playoffs for the first time.
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