Work in Sports
MLS Playoff Notebook
Fusion's Cullen on shootout: Good riddance
Posted: Monday October 25, 1999 07:17 PM
By Jeff Green, CNN/SI
Major League Soccer's intention to do away with the shootout tiebreaker couldn't come soon enough for at least one player -- Miami Fusion defender Leo Cullen, who gained early recognition last season by helping the Fusion pick up its first-ever win in a shootout.
"I speak for 100 percent of the players in the league when I say 'Drop it,'" Cullen said. "No one likes to win a shootout, because you only get one point. You should get one point for a tie and two for a shootout... To lose by a shootout could be the worst... It's no indication of how good your team is... There's so much luck involved."
Former MLS commissioner Douglas G. Logan hinted at doing away with the shootout prior to his departure this season.
New commissioner Don Garber has followed through with the initiative.
"The shootout is going to be gone," he told the Washington Post this week, "if we can figure out a good conclusion to our games. We haven't done that yet."
The shootout has drawn the ire of many soccer purists, Garber said. In most domestic leagues worldwide, ties are allowed to stand, with both teams earning one point.
Garber has said he intends to reveal numerous changes -- both on the field and off -- before MLS Cup '99 on November 21 in Foxboro, Mass. Other changes under consideration by the league include shortening the season to avoid the congested fall sports schedule and changing the MLS timekeeping method to conform to international standards.
Dynasty for sale
MLS's most successful organization, D.C. United, appears to be on the verge of finally finding a buyer.
United, which won the first two MLS championships, had been placed on the block by current investor-operator group Washington Soccer L.P., whose primary backer is investment firm Soros Fund Management.
According to reports in the Washtington Post and Washington Times, Manhattan-based investment firm EM Warburg, Pincus and Co. should complete a deal to purchase United for $25-$30 million by the end of the month. Other parties are also involved in the transaction, according to reports.
The same firm has offered some $44 million to purchase a controlling share of financially troubled English Premier League club Everton.
D.C. coach Thomas Rongen said Saturday that he doesn't think sale is a distraction for the club's players.
"It's not a topic of conversation among the players," Rongen said.
Under MLS's single-entity structure, each club operator owns a stake in the league and not just an individual team.
Kenneth A. Horowitz, a founder of Cellular One, invested $20 million in the league for the rights to operate the Fusion, which began play in 1998.
Wortmann's future in doubt
The future of Fusion coach Ivo Wortmann is in doubt, and won't be decided until after the season concludes.
Wortmann, 50, replaced the Fusion's first coach, Cacho Cordoba, in July 1998 and guided the team to two straight playoff appearances, despite a regular season record of 20-25.
Wortmann came under intense scrutiny from fans and media early this season when he benched superstar Colombian Carlos Valderrama, who was subsequently reassigned to the Tampa Bay Mutiny by Logan.
Will he return?
"I don't know. Right now, myself and the management, we are focusing on the playoffs," Wortmann said. "I want to stay here. I like coaching these guys. Even having a tough season, I made the right decisions. I had a lot of criticism. I was prepared for this. I handled the pressure. It was not easy. Even losing games like we did this season, we never had problems between the players."
According to Cullen, Wortmann has the support of the Fusion's players.
"We never second-guessed Ivo," Cullen said, responding to criticisms of often-changing personnel and lineups. "None of us has lost faith in him or his style or the things he says or the times that he makes the changes."
"We fought through the hard times and we've been through enough together, and Ivo's been right there with us. We all hope he stays next year," Cullen said. "That probably surprises a lot of people, too, considering all the signs in the stadium -- that will be there tomorrow -- asking for his departure. Ivo's one of us."
The Brazilian-born Wortmann's previous experience included a stint as coach of the Saudi Arabian Olympic team at the 1996 Games in Atlanta.
At least one player on the field Sunday will likely be switching sides once the season is done.
United owes the Fusion a "future consideration" from the deal that landed Project-40 forward Chris Albright in D.C. Rumors in Miami have forward Roy Lassiter headed south, and then possibly back north in exchange for Revolution forward Joe-Max Moore.
Moore, a Miami resident whose contract with MLS has expired, attracted recent interest from European clubs after a strong MLS season, sources said. He played previously with Nuremberg in Germany.
Rongen says that the decision on compensation has not yet been made.
"It will be determined after the season," he said.
Rongen says he expects big things from Albright, 20, despite his limited playing time this season.
"Chris' playing time this year was what was expected," Rongen said. "I think next year really is the year where we're talking about Chris Albright either breaking through or continuing to make adjustments.
"He's got all the capabilities of being a very good player in this league, and a future star. Now it's up to Chris."
The Fusion's Dutch midfielder Edwin Gorter will probably not be back in MLS next season. Gorter, whose family has remained in Holland rather than joining him in the U.S., was acquired from New England in exchange for Argentine defender Mario Gori.
"I've had a couple of discussions with the club," said Gorter. "I think they are willing to try and make me stay," said Gorter. "I didn't close the door 100 percent. I don't know. I don't think so. I think I'm going to call it quits."
The 36-year-old veteran was singled out Saturday by the Fusion's Cullen as the most influential of the Fusion's many midseason acquisitions.
Gorter stepped in at sweeper upon his arrival, pushing Cullen to marking back and providing a stabilizing force on the backline. After losing his starting spot temporarily -- due officially to a knee problem, but rumored to stem from disagreements with Wortmann -- Gorter has returned late in the season to the attacking central midfield role to which he is more accustomed.
While at New England in 1998, Gorter earned notoriety -- and a hefty fine from MLS -- for aiming a racial epithet at Trinidadian teammate David Nakhid during practice. Nakhid has since left MLS.
D.C. United's playoff preparations have been disrupted this week by news that Argentine defender Diego Sonora will likely leave the team following the conclusion of the Fusion series -- win or lose.
Sonora's contract expires next weekend, according to reports, and he likely will depart to seek a spot with a Latin American club.
Rongen admits that the issue has been distracting for United, but says he intends to play Sonora, a regular starter at right back, as long as he's available.
"It's a very unique situation, and one that we preferably didn't want to see. But these things happen," Rongen said. "We're a very close team and we care about each other. There are some distractions there."
"We'll let the chips fall where they may," he said. "We would like for Diego to be with us at least through the championship, if we get there."
Sonora told the Washington Post that his agent will meet with MLS officials this week to discuss a new contract. He also told the paper that the league -- which controls all player contracts -- wants him to take a 40 percent pay cut to remain in MLS next season.