| Friday, September 14, 2001 24:15 EST
By Jeff Bradley
[ESPN The Magazine]
After a little Subway Series break, the Boot Room returns, only in a new and hopefully improved format. Instead of a big, bulky column every Thursday, the New BR plans on giving you a medium-sized hit every Monday and Thursday. In addition, look for links to ESPN The Magazine's new site, espnmag.com, for some off-the-beaten path notes.
Lothar Matthaeus, who came to MLS in good enough form that he was a starter for Germany in the European Championships, didn't work out for the MetroStars. He was supposed to be around for a couple of years but now the smart money says he's gone.
Hristo Stoitchkov, who came to MLS with a year's worth of rust, did work out (once he got through some injury problems) splendidly for the Chicago Fire. He was supposed to play one year and retire and now it looks like he wants to sign on for more.
So, having seen how unpredictable these signings can be, does MLS bring over more big name players past their prime for 2001?
Already we've heard from former World Footballer of the Year George Weah, that he wants to finish his career in New York. And Paul Gascoigne keeps telling his handlers that he'd love to have a run in Florida before he hangs up his boots.
"I think we'll look into bringing over more of these types of players," says MLS player czar Ivan Gazidis. "But we don't know how real anyone's interest is just yet."
Very true, indeed. In the five years MLS has been up and running, we've heard that Baggio, Bebeto and Batistuta were all on their way -- only to learn later that foreign agents love to throw "America" around as an option because, well, the rest of the world hasn't quite caught on that the Cosmos no longer exist, and that the money here is paltry. All you have to do is read the headlines, crying out that so-and-so is looking for "An American Pay Day" and you get the idea of just how clueless some people are.
There's no right or wrong answer to this dilemma because, if you could sign another Stoitchkov, you'd do it today. But you risk that he might become a Matthaeus.
For the first few years, the league's popular refrain was that it wasn't interested in "old Europeans." Instead, the league would bring us young talent from Central and South America and Africa. Quickly, the league learned that there is not a 22-year old Jaime Moreno waiting in every Latin country ready to sign and make an impact in the States.
Five years in there can be little argument that players like Kansas City's Mo Johnston and Miklos Molnar, along with Chicago's Peter Nowak, Lubos Kubik and Stoitchkov, can not only play in MLS, but elevate the league. So, Gazidis and Company have to listen when the game's elder statesmen speak ... and how when they decide to gamble, it pays off.
Not to say I told you so...
But, a long time ago, when the WUSA said it was going to launch in 2001 in stadiums that hold between 10,000 and 20,000, I said "great news, can't wait to see these places."
Well, so far, we've learned that the Atlanta Beat will play at Georgia Tech's 46,000-seat Bobby Dodd Stadium and the Carolina Tempest (originally the Orlando team) will play at UNC's Fetzer Field, which (To my UNC Class of '86 memory) has about 6,000 bleacher seats. We're also hearing that the Philadelphia Charge will play at Villanova University on artificial turf ... and you get the picture.
Stadiums are a big problem for soccer in this country. And not a gender-specific problem, either. That's why if you're a soccer fan, you should root for the minds and wallets of MLS and WUSA to get together and find some solutions.
Any positive stadium news?
Uh ... not really. In Chicago, in the wake of the Bears' announcement that they'll be looking for some public money to renovate Soldier Field, the Fire now worry that their request for a chunk of the same money will get shelved. "We're still optimistic," says Fire GM Peter Wilt, "but we may have to look at some other revenue sources."
Hot Stove Talk
Friday's Waiver Draft figures to be a snoozer, but the month of November will be an active one for MLS teams for several reasons.
For one thing, the option on most player contracts have to be picked up or dropped by Dec. 1. That means, MLS has between now and the end of the month to renew contracts with players, re-do contracts, or drop players entirely.
For example, a player like Preki has a 2001 option on his contract that, if picked up, would keep him up near the top of the MLS pay scale. Kansas City and MLS have between now and Dec. 1 to either agree to pick up the option., or to sit down with Preki and come up with a new number.
Another twist, is that currently teams don't know what the salary budget will be for 2001, so basically, they're coming up with educated guesses as to what they have to do to meet their budgets.
And yet another twist is that teams are preparing for the Senior International Player limit to go from four to three.
In other words, keep an eye on the Transactions.