He's Got a Shot
MLS top scorer Roy Lassiter is auditioning for a U.S. team starting job
In April, U.S. team coach Bruce Arena sent D.C. United striker Roy (Lights Out) Lassiter a letter. He explained that Lassiter was a strong candidate for a forward spot but that Lassiter's most likely role would be that of a sub who would play when the Americans were looking for a late goal. When the two men spoke last month, Lassiter had other ideas. "Bruce," he recalls saying, "I can't score any goals sitting on the bench. I want to be a starter."
He's expected to get his chance on Sunday when the U.S. meets Argentina in a friendly in Washington, D.C. Through last weekend Lassiter led MLS with 11 goals in 11 games, and he will likely start against Argentina in place of Brian McBride, who is sidelined with a broken cheekbone. "We don't have a lot of goal scorers eligible to play, and Roy has been finishing off his chances," says Arena. "That's what goal scorers are about."
Sunday's match could be a turning point for the 30-year-old Lassiter, an opportunistic striker who uses speed to make up for his technical shortcomings. Although he's MLS's all-time leading scorer, Lights Out has consistently blown a fuse in international play, scoring just four times in 25 games and shanking a number of sitters in recent matches. What's more, Lassiter concedes that it'll be hard not to feel even more pressure against Argentina, one of the world's best teams. "I have this title behind my name of 'goal scorer'—You must score goals!" he says. "But right now I've got a lot of confidence. I'm going to perform."
He never got that chance at last year's World Cup. Steve Sampson, the U.S. coach at the time, left Lassiter off the team, saying he hadn't proved himself internationally—a move that Sampson later called a mistake. As for Arena, he has promised to call up MLS's best players, regardless of their experience, as he rebuilds the national team. "Coming out of the 1998 World Cup, how many U.S. players have proved themselves internationally?" says Arena. "If that's the knock on Roy, he's just part of a long list."
Logan's Run Should End
As MLS lurches through its fourth season, it has become increasingly clear that commissioner Doug Logan should go. Logan himself proclaimed 1999 the Year of No Excuses, and three years of administrative malaise is enough reason for MLS owners to dispense with excuses and show Logan the door.
The numbers don't lie. Under Logan, MLS's average attendance plunged from 17,406 in its debut season (1996) to 14,619 in '97 and hasn't climbed above 15,000 since. TV ratings have been similarly stagnant. On ESPN2, MLS's flagship network, the league hasn't approached the 0.35 rating it attained in '96, and both ABC and Univision are broadcasting fewer games this season than they did in '98. Moreover, in 3� years as commissioner, Logan has presided over the sale of only one (San Jose Clash) of the three league-owned franchises ( Dallas Burn and Tampa Bay Mutiny remain unsold). MLS, meanwhile, has reportedly lost $100 million in its four years.
That's not all. According to management sources around the league, Logan so resented the power of deputy commissioner Sunil Gulati, who negotiated all player contracts and was considered the brains of MLS, that when Gulati angered a team owner in March, Logan helped orchestrate Gulati's acrimonious departure. That was only one of the moves that have alienated several members of MLS management. "The league was successful the first year because there was a good plan and Doug let other people do their jobs," says one. "Then he decided he knew more than the experts, and since then we've been on a downhill slide."
Says another, "This league has done horribly in the media ever since Doug announced that we'd draw 20,000 people a game before the season two years ago. He never talked to any of us before he said that."