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Soccer

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MLS Preview

Champ? Hello, Columbus

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Posted: Monday March 22, 1999 12:26 PM

By Grant Wahl

Sports Illustrated

The 1999 MLS season opens this Saturday, and it may wind up looking a lot like '98. The Los Angeles Galaxy should again score the most goals, allow the fewest and finish with the league's best record. Last year L.A. got dumped in the Western Conference finals by the first-year Chicago Fire, which went on to win the championship. This season? Expect the Galaxy to reach MLS Cup '99, but look for the Columbus Crew to get hot late and seize the title.

 EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. Columbus Crew The Crew may start slowly -- its first seven games are on the road -- but the club has MLS's best young attacking talent in 22-year-old Stern John (a league-high 26 goals) and 26-year-old Brian McBride.

2. D.C. United Still solid, it lost coach Bruce Arena to the national team and could be without the scoring combo of Marco Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno for all of August because of their commitments to the Bolivian team.

3. Miami Fusion Creaky playmaker Carlos Valderrama, 37, doesn't need to run as long as he's making breathtaking passes to Diego Serna, who came on strong late in '98 to finish with 11 goals.

4. New England Revolution Walter Zenga has made two major changes: 1) choosing to play goalkeeper as well as coach and 2) replacing Raul Diaz Arce up front with the dependable Giovanni Savarese. Zenga's moves will get the Revs to the playoffs--barely.

5. New York/New Jersey MetroStars Bora Milutinovic's tactics won't help a team that is even less talented than last year's after getting rid of five starters (Savarese, goalkeeper Tony Meola and defender Diego Soñora among them). Don't look for much offense with Bora in charge.

6. Tampa Bay Mutiny The ghost of Frankie Hejduk (departed for Germany's Bayer Leverkusen) will haunt Tampa Bay, which has two new scoring "saviors": Jefferson Gottardi of Bolivia and Alejandro Sequeira of Costa Rica. If attendance woes continue, the Mutiny might as well move to Rochester, N.Y.

 WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. Los Angeles Galaxy Even though forward Carlos Hermosillo will be playing in his native Mexico through April, firepower is not hard to come by: Cobi Jones, Welton and Mauricio Cienfuegos combined for 49 goals last season, or more than the totals of five teams.

2. Chicago Fire Good news: The 1998 champions' lineup stays intact and includes the best defensive midfielder in MLS, Chris Armas. Bad news: Midfielder Peter Nowak, 34, and defenders Lubos Kubik, 35, and Francis Okaroh, 35, are a year older.

3. Kansas City Wizards The additions of Meola and defender Alexi Lalas will boost the biggest underachiever of '98 into the playoffs, as long as midfielder Preki wakes up after sleepwalking through last season (10 goals). Might as well move to St. Louis.

4. San Jose Clash The Salvadoran gol duo of newcomer Diaz Arce (18 goals) and Ronald Cerritos (13 goals) will make Clash supporters forget striker Eric Wynalda, who's out for five to six months following knee surgery.

5. Colorado Rapids Paz means peace in Spanish. Expect little of it in the Rapids' midfield after the return of stylish Adrian Paz to his native Uruguay. Emerging star Ross Paule, 22, is surrounded by too many graybeards for Colorado to earn a spot in the postseason.

6. Dallas Burn The lowest-scoring team in the league (1.34 goals per game) took drastic measures to cure its impotence, right? Wrong. With no significant acquisitions around him, forward Dante Washington (seven goals) needs to recover his form of '97. Might as well move to Houston.

Issue date: March 22, 1999

 
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