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Europe's Loss, MLS's Gain A money crunch across the pond has kept the U.S.'s World Cup stars on home turf

Sept. 02, 2002
Sept. 02, 2002

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Sept. 2, 2002

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Europe's Loss, MLS's Gain A money crunch across the pond has kept the U.S.'s World Cup stars on home turf

The world's top soccer leagues are starting their seasons in
Europe, but contrary to expectations, not one U.S.-based star
from the Americans' stunning World Cup quarterfinal run has left
Major League Soccer for a lucrative transfer across the Atlantic.
That's a shock, given that MLS players had five of the six goals
scored by the U.S. in South Korea and that European clubs
traditionally go on spending sprees after the World Cup.

This is an article from the Sept. 2, 2002 issue

Not this year. "The transfer market is dead," says MLS deputy
commissioner Ivan Gazidis, who negotiates the league's player
contracts and overseas deals. "After free agency came to Europe,
midlevel clubs overspent, and now the financial realities have
come home to roost. The collapse of TV deals has left many clubs
fighting for survival."

European soccer is in dire economic straits. Many top clubs are
plagued by huge debt, and the bankruptcies of broadcasters in
England and Germany have left smaller clubs without millions of
dollars they'd been counting on. A year after Real Madrid paid a
record $65 million for French midfielder Zinedine Zidane,
Brazilian superstar Rivaldo moved from Barcelona to AC Milan in
July for free. A raft of players headed by Brazil's Ronaldo have
agreed to take pay cuts, and the Italian league has delayed its
start for two weeks while it looks for more TV revenue.

A few offers have trickled in for Americans. A deal that would
have sent 20-year-old Chicago Fire midfielder DaMarcus Beasley to
Ajax of Amsterdam for $2 million fell through when Ajax acquired
a similar player in Europe at no cost. MLS also turned down an
offer from Bayern Munich for MetroStars forward Clint Mathis for
$1 million plus potentially lucrative performance clauses.

Some Americans, fearing little playing time in Europe, say
they're satisfied in MLS. San Jose Earthquakes striker Landon
Donovan, 20, has said he doesn't want to return to Bayer
Leverkusen, which loaned him to the Quakes after he languished on
the bench in Germany for two years. In June, Fire forward Josh
Wolff, 25, signed a long-term contract with MLS worth $270,000
annually. But other Yanks say MLS is trying too hard to hold on
to its marketable stars. Columbus Crew forward Brian McBride, who
scored two goals in the World Cup, is, at age 30, running out of
chances to go overseas. He has criticized MLS for not being
responsive enough to a proposed deal that would have sent him to
English club Everton in exchange for American Joe-Max Moore and
cash.

"MLS never had a credible offer from Everton," Gazidis says. "We
would be responsive to any offer from overseas, but it has to be
credible and quantifiable." At the same time, Gazidis
acknowledges, "Our wish is to build the sport and the league, and
you don't do that by transferring your best players overseas."

As the World Cup recedes into memory, the likelihood of transfers
decreases by the day. For now, Europe's loss is MLS's gain.
"Every player's dream is to play in Europe," says U.S. national
team coach Bruce Arena, "but not everybody needs to be in Europe
to be successful. We've got a pretty good league right
here." --G.W.

COLOR PHOTO: RONALD MARTINEZ/GETTY IMAGES HOMEBODIES MLS would like (from top) Donovan, McBride and Beasley to stay.COLOR PHOTO: CHRIS PUTMAN/AP [See caption above]COLOR PHOTO: CHRIS LIVINGSTON/GETTY IMAGES [See caption above]