Major League Soccer continued to alter itself today, announcing that next year's regular season will end one month earlier than this year and the championship game will be played about five weeks sooner. However, a proposal to reduce the number of regular season matches to 28 from 32 was defeated at the league's board of governors meetings this morning.
"We've made a lot of changes this week--changes that we think will allow our league to prosper in the years to come," Commissioner Don Garber said. "We are confident we've made the right decisions. We think the fans will be happy about them."
On Wednesday, MLS--which has had declining attendance each of the last three years and stagnant television ratings--announced that it had eliminated the shootout as a way to break ties at the end of regulation and added a 10-minute sudden-death overtime. It also decided to allow referees, not scoreboard clocks, to keep the official time, conforming with every other league around the world.
One of the areas Garber targeted was the length of the regular season, which this year began in mid-March and did not end until Oct. 10. Next year's season will start about the same time but will end Sept. 10, and the title game, which for the 1999 season will be decided Sunday at Foxboro (Mass.) Stadium, will be played Oct. 15 in Tampa or Washington.
Players and coaches around the league seemed to agree that there should be fewer games, but a major investment group, the Hunt family--which operates the Columbus and Kansas City franchises--was opposed because it feared significant loss in game revenue. Most teams had planned to make up for fewer home games by adding exhibitions against foreign clubs, attracting spectators from their city's ethnic communities.
But according to league sources, the Hunt family apparently did not believe such a strategy would work in their cities because they are not as ethnically diverse as others around the league.
The league also announced that the playoffs would maintain a best-of-three format for the first round and conference finals, but ties would stand if either of the first two games are even after regulation and overtime. Thus, a team that wins Game 1 would only need a tie in Game 2 to advance or, if Game 1 finished tied, the winner of Game 2 would advance.
If the teams split the first two matches or both are ties, Game 3 would decide the series. The league has not yet decided what to do if the third game is even after regulation and overtime, although the most likely scenario is a penalty-kick tiebreaker, which is a standard practice around the world.
Dallas's Kreis Named MVP
Dallas forward Jason Kreis was named the league's most valuable player, beating out D.C. United teammates Marco Etcheverry (the 1998 winner) and Jaime Moreno. Kreis, the first U.S.-born player to win the award, led the league in scoring with 18 goals and 15 assists. "I'm shocked, I'm flattered and I'm proud," said Kreis, an Omaha native who played at Duke. "It's been an unbelievable year." . . .
More than 40,000 tickets have been sold for Sunday's game between United and the Los Angeles Galaxy, a total that league officials say is well ahead of their projections. A favorable weather forecast (partly cloudy, 60 degrees) has helped boost sales, as has a surge of tickets purchased by several thousand Washington area fans. . . .
Fernando Clavijo, the New York/New Jersey MetroStars' interim coach, reportedly has told the club that he will resign if a full-time coach isn't chosen by Monday. Clavijo, Rutgers Coach Bob Reasso and former Los Angeles coach Octavio Zambrano are believed to be the finalists. . . .
The Kansas City Wizards hired Curt Johnson as their general manager, replacing Doug Newman, who was forced out last month. Johnson had been the vice president and general manager of the minor league Richmond Kickers.