Major League Soccer has attempted to widen its national following the past two years by holding its midseason all-star match in cities without MLS franchises. But after a disappointing turnout of 23,227 at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium for last Saturday's game, league officials say the concept likely will be abandoned.
"I take full responsibility and I feel that it was ill-advised to go into a neutral site, but we must learn by our mistakes," Commissioner Doug Logan said. "From this experience we have learned that the all-star game or MLS Cup [the league's championship match] probably won't be in a neutral city for a very long time or ever."
Logan had been optimistic about last week's event because of a good crowd for last year's game (34,416 at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando) and San Diego sports officials' interest in getting an MLS expansion franchise within five years. But not even the addition of an exhibition after the all-star game, featuring Chivas of Mexico against Universidad Catolica of Chile, could boost ticket sales.
"Our turnout in the stadium was disappointing and we see that our promotion could have been better executed," Logan admitted. "We should have put five or six of our staff on site to do promotions."
MLS also received limited television exposure because ABC preempted the game for coverage of the search for John F. Kennedy Jr.'s plane; the game was seen on ESPN2.
Attendance for next year's all-star game probably will be about the same as this year's, but that's okay with Logan because the site will be the new Columbus Crew Stadium, which holds about 22,500.
The league's other marquee game, MLS Cup, never has been held in a city without a franchise, and even before last weekend's discouraging numbers, there were no plans to go in that direction. This year's championship game is at Foxboro (Mass.) Stadium, which also hosted the first MLS Cup in 1996.
And after several delays, MLS's board of governors is expected to announce the site for the 2000 final in the next two weeks. Raymond James Stadium in Tampa is the favorite, but there also is support for RFK Stadium, which was sold out for the 1997 title game between D.C. United and Colorado.
United has had miserable experiences with foreign-exchange referees this year, and today the man with the whistle is Matsumura Kaziuhiko from Japan's J-League, who is making his MLS debut.
In May, a Scottish referee ejected two D.C. players during a loss in Chicago, and last month, a Chinese referee was in charge of a controversial loss to Los Angeles in which the winning goal was scored on a free kick with six seconds left. . . .
United seemed close several times to acquiring Ghana defender Joseph Addo, who starred at George Mason University before turning pro and playing in several European leagues.
But recently Addo, 27, has been training with the New England Revolution and played in Thursday night's 2-1 exhibition loss to Dutch power Ajax at Foxboro Stadium. The club is hoping to keep him, but with Ecuador forward Ariel Graziani likely headed its way, New England probably won't have a foreign player slot available for Addo. . . .
Defending champion Chicago continued its inconsistent ways Friday night by blowing a two-goal lead with 17 minutes left and eventually losing to San Jose, 3-2, in a shootout. The Clash is 9-1 in shootouts.
Said Fire Coach Bob Bradley: "We are angry and frustrated."