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Soccer
Grant Wahl
June 29, 1998
MLSward Ho?German standout J�rgen Klinsmann may be California bound
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June 29, 1998

Soccer

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MLSward Ho?
German standout J�rgen Klinsmann may be California bound

After he scored one goal and assisted on the other in Germany's 2-0 whitewashing of the U.S. on June 15, 33-year-old striker J�rgen Klinsmann was asked if he plans to come to America after the World Cup. "Yes," came the smiling reply, "when I'm on vacation." Klinsmann's coyness notwithstanding, MLS has mounted a full-bore offensive to sign him for the 1999 season. Deputy commissioner Sunil Gulati said last week that he had spoken with Klinsmann's lawyer, Andy Gross, and that he and Gross planned to meet this week at the site of Germany's second-round match, either Montpellier or Toulouse. "We wouldn't announce an agreement until after Germany has either won the World Cup or has been eliminated," said Gulati, who negotiates all of the league's player contracts.

If Klinsmann signs, MLS will have been aided by a felicitous set of circumstances. J�rgen's wife, Debbie, is a California native, and they and their infant son often visit the U.S. on vacation. The Klinsmanns own a house in Santa Barbara, and, according to Gulati, J�rgen has said he would be willing to play for either the Los Angeles Galaxy or the San Jose Clash.

Although he made $1.6 million with the English club Tottenham Hotspur last season, Klinsmann might agree to take the precipitous pay cut that would come with a move to MLS, which has a maximum annual salary of $276,500. "We could afford J�rgen, because he's a free agent [meaning MLS wouldn't have to pay a transfer fee] and because he's interested in being in the U.S.," Gulati said.

There's hardly any other hot player at the World Cup whom MLS can afford. Although the tournament has always been a bazaar for clubs in search of emerging talent, the three-year-old MLS has no plans to pursue any other foreign participant. "Anyone that we identify as a good player has been identified by 12 [non-US.] teams that have more money," Gulati said. "So if, say, an African player is playing well, [Italian clubs] AC Milan and Lazio get in line, and that's when I get out of line."

As a result, Klinsmann aside, MLS is planted firmly on the supply side of the World Cup market. According to Gulati, since the start of the tournament European clubs have expressed interest in four MLS players on the U.S. team, while a South American club has contacted him about a fifth. Gulati refused to identify any of the players, noting that they had no knowledge of the inquiries. "I'm not going to distract any U.S. players while the team is still in the World Cup," he said. "We'll deal with this afterward."

Italian Ice
The Terminator Lightens Up

Stunned Italian journalists clustered like gnats around Christian Vieri on the night of June 17 at La Mosson stadium in Montpellier. Minutes earlier Vieri had scored his second goal in the Azzurri's 3-0 defeat of Cameroon, and for the first time in anyone's memory he had celebrated wildly, sprinting to the corner flag and posing like a caddie tending a pin. Was this the Atl�tico Madrid striker whom Spaniards had dubbed the Stiff for his dour demeanor?

"I don't know what came over me," Vieri said, voicing a sentiment that others might have about his World Cup performance in general. Since before the tournament began, the debate has raged over which "skilled" forward should start for Italy—the young star Alessandro Del Piero, 23, or the veteran Roberto Baggio, 31. Yet at week's end the 24-year-old Vieri, whom Italians had nicknamed the Terminator for his artless yet bulldozer-strong playing style, had three goals and was tied with Chile's Marcelo Salas and France's Thierry Henry as the tournament's second leading scorer, after Argentina's Gabriel Batistuta.

The 6'1", 180-pound Vieri was born near Florence but spent almost all of his first 14 years in Australia, where his father, Roberto, played for the Sydney soccer club Marconi. Christian grew up fancying cricket, but when the Vieris moved back to Italy, he joined Turin's youth soccer club. Seven teams and 10 years later, Vieri has made his name in the Spanish league, which he led last season with 26 goals, more than Ronaldo had scored the year before at Barcelona. "Christian is a nightmare to play against, because he's so strong and he's always in the middle of things," says Italian defender Fabio Cannavaro. "He also does a great job creating openings for teammates."

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