AN OLD FLAME
Bora Milutinovic is back, using matches to ignite the MetroStars
Bora Milutinovic, budding pyromaniac, burst from a hotel
conference room in Waltham, Mass., last Saturday afternoon and
began searching for matches. It was six hours before his debut
as coach of the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, against the New
England Revolution, and he wanted to show his new team a parlor
trick. When he returned to the room, he dumped 20 matches into
an ashtray and tossed in a lighted match. Nothing happened. Then
he grabbed a full matchbook and lit one match without tearing it
out. Soon the whole matchbook was blazing like a tiny tiki
torch. "See?" Milutinovic said. "If you are together, you can go
It was a much-needed lesson for the erratic MetroStars, who had
lost eight of 10 games when Milutinovic, the only coach to lead
four countries to the second round of the World Cup, replaced
Alfonso Mondelo on Sept. 21. The move quickly paid off, with a
1-0 shootout victory last Saturday night. Now, a Bora-led upset
of the Crew in the teams' first-round playoff, which began on
Wednesday in Columbus, would only further validate his approach:
He doesn't reconstruct teams so much as deconstruct them with
the zeal of Jacques Derrida. "He asks questions that are so
basic you think he's crazy," says midfielder Mike Sorber, one of
four MetroStars who played for Milutinovic with the U.S. team in
World Cup '94. "What's the most important thing on the field?
The ball. What's the most important play? The next play. They're
so simple, but a lot of us don't know the answers."
At every practice last week, the MetroStars performed
Milutinovic's notorious "one player, one ball" drill, in which
each player merely dribbles around the field. "You must know the
feel of the ball to play the game," says Bora. "It drives guys
nuts," says defender Alexi Lalas, another alumnus of Bora's U.S.
team, "but now we know that there's a method to the madness. In
'94 we didn't."
Not that Milutinovic's rescue plan is based just on smoke and
mirrors. Last week he not only ran the MetroStars through their
first two-a-day practices all season but also sidled up to rookie
defender Mike Petke and in five minutes changed the way Petke
plays. Instead of defending with his body turned toward the
sideline, he now faces attackers head-on. "I'll stick with it,"
Petke said. "Bora knows what he's doing."
At least he does until the MetroStars' playoff run ends;
Milutinovic is still interested in the vacant U.S. team position.
"I am happy that they invited me to New York," he says, "but
tomorrow may be different. Tomorrow I don't know where I go."
Year-end MLS Awards
MVP: THE DEVIL HIMSELF
Why is D.C. United midfielder Marco Etcheverry MLS's most
valuable player? Simple. While Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder
Cobi Jones may have had gaudier stats this season (19 goals and
13 assists), no player controlled games more than Etcheverry (10
goals and 19 assists), the linchpin of the league's best team.
El Diablo, as the 28-year-old Bolivian is known, possesses two
things that are all too rare in MLS: jaw-dropping ball skills
and playmaking genius.
Coach of the Year: Bob Bradley. Bradley guided the first-year
Chicago Fire to the third-best record (20-12) by blending
productive veterans (including three Poles, led by midfielder
Peter Nowak) with developing U.S. talent (goalkeeper Zach
Thornton and forwards Ante Razov and Josh Wolff). The result:
solidarnosc and a title contender.
Rookie of the Year: Ben Olsen. Proof that the Project-40
developmental program works, Olsen (four goals, eight assists)
left Virginia after his junior year, in 1997, and improved
exponentially as a starter for United.
Smartest Louisiana Purchase since the Louisiana Purchase: Stern
John. Plucked by the Crew from the A-League's New Orleans
Riverboat Gamblers, John, a 21-year-old Trinidadian, led MLS with
26 goals. His base salary: $38,000.
Boris Yeltsin Award for Worst Foreign Investment: Marcelo Vega.
Highly touted by MLS, Vega, a Chilean midfielder, displayed more
paunch than punch (one goal, six assists in 17 games) for the
Robert Downey Jr. Bender of the Year Award: Damian. In the
Dallas Burn's June 4 game against L.A., the mononymous Mexican
scored MLS's first--and only--goal directly on a corner kick.
Roberto Alomar Spittin' Image Award: Tab Ramos. In an encore to
the cloudless shower that he rained on D.C.'s John Harkes in '96,
the MetroStars' Ramos salivened up another game in July when he
loogied on the Crew's Andrew Gregor.
P.T. Barnum Award: Commissioner Doug Logan. "This league, after
only three years, has the fifth-highest attendance in the world,"
Logan bragged on several occasions this year. One problem: It's
not true. According to soccerstats.com, MLS (average attendance:
14,312) is No. 7, behind not only the four European giants
(Italy, England, Spain and Germany) but also Mexico (26,428) and
France (19,219). Word to the commish: A soccer sucker isn't born
The U.S. Lineup in 2002
YOUTH WILL BE SERVED
The names of Clint Mathis, John O'Brien and Ben Olsen may not
yet mean much to U.S. soccer fans, but they will in four years
if MLS coaches are right. In a poll conducted last week, SI
asked each coach to name the hypothetical starters for an
American 2002 World Cup team. Of the 11 top vote getters, only
Mathis, O'Brien and Olsen weren't on the national team in World
Defense: Incumbent goalkeeper Kasey Keller, 28, received votes
from nine of the 11 coaches. The three defenders are World Cup
1998 veterans Eddie Pope, 24 (the only unanimous choice on the
team); Frankie Hejduk, 24 (who would move from midfielder to
defender); and David Regis, 29.
Midfielders: Regulars Cobi Jones, 28; Brian Maisonneuve, 25; and
Claudio Reyna, 25, are joined by two newcomers. Mathis, a
21-year-old who played from South Carolina, had five goals and
10 assists as a Galaxy rookie this year. Meanwhile, O'Brien, 21,
from Playa del Rey, Calif., has been developing since 1994 in
the youth program of powerhouse Ajax Amsterdam. At week's end he
had scored two goals in six games for the Dutch club FC Utrecht,
which got him on loan from Ajax.
Forwards: Eight of the coaches chose national-team vet Brian
McBride, 26, for one of the two spots. The other went to D.C.'s
Olsen, 21, who earned five votes. That was two more than Josh
Wolff, 21, who scored eight goals in 14 games as a Fire rookie.
If anything, the poll results sounded the death knell for the old
guard. Tab Ramos received only one vote, while Marcelo Balboa,
John Harkes, Alexi Lalas and Eric Wynalda didn't get any.
Q & A
Walter (Spiderman) Zenga returned last month from his native
Italy to coach his old MLS team, the Revolution. Zenga, a former
Inter Milan star, is a 38-year-old man of many passions. He
drives a Harley. He wears a Spiderman baseball cap backward
while coaching. While in goal against the Mutiny last year, he
celebrated a New England score by running to the sideline to
make out with his girlfriend. (Tampa Bay barely missed his
untended net on the ensuing kickoff.)
Q: What's the biggest difference between Boston and Milan?
A: It's a completely different mentality. In Milan the disco
opens at one o'clock in the morning. Here it is closed.
Q: How about American and Italian women?
A: Here there are many rules about, how do you say, sexual
harassment. In Italy you can make stupid with a girl. Here if you
make stupid, you will be poor.
Q: You're still in pretty good shape. Is Spiderman going to be a
player-coach next year?
A: We're working on the agreement for that right now. It is my
dream to be a player again.
Q: So whom do you like more, McGwire or Sosa?
A: Personally, I prefer Sosa.