MLS Champ? Hello, Columbus

March 22, 1999

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. --Grant Wahl

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 Sonora 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.

COLOR PHOTO: ESSY GHAVAMEDDINI/MLS/ALLSPORT Look for the Crew's McBride to head off L.A.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)