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Inside Soccer

June 14, 1999
June 14, 1999

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June 14, 1999

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HE'S GOT A SHOT
MLS top scorer Roy Lassiter is auditioning for a U.S. team
starting job

This is an article from the June 14, 1999 issue Original Layout

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 alltime 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."

MLS Commissioner
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 1/2 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."

Who could replace Logan? Here's one suggestion: 1994 World Cup
organizer Alan Rothenberg. Although Rothenberg refused to comment
on the subject last week, sources close to him think he would be
interested in the commissioner's job, which he turned down in '95
when he went back to his law practice. After all, Rothenberg's
influence on American soccer is at its lowest point since '90:
Term limits forced him to give up his U.S. Soccer presidency last
year; his attempt to buy the Clash fell through; and his closest
ally in MLS, Gulati, was forced out.

Sure, Rothenberg comes with baggage. His law firm, Latham and
Watkins, profited handsomely from his connection with World Cup
'94 (the firm handled all the legal work for World Cup USA), and
his buddies on the Cup board voted to award him a $7.4 million
payment for his "volunteer" work after the tournament's
conclusion. That said, Rothenberg was the main reason the Cup
cleared a $50 million profit, and he's the only administrator who
has made soccer work in America. If he's interested in creating a
lasting legacy, a successful MLS would mean far more to soccer in
this country than World Cup '94 ever could.

By no means is MLS a lost cause. It's producing good young
American players, and two or three of its teams could compete in
any first division in the world. But for the league to grow, it
needs its own David Stern, a leader with a financial and
marketing vision who produces results and leaves the soccer part
to the experts. In other words, no more excuses. And no more
Commissioner Logan.

COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT HALLERAN/ALLSPORT Lassiter is a proven goal scorer but hasn't made his mark in international play. COLOR PHOTO: MIKE EGERTON/EMPICS Manchester United's Yorke takes winning the Treble and missing out on the World Cup in stride.