World Cup 1998: MLS Faces a Tough Decision

Before 1994, America was an island unaffected by the currents of World Cup soccer mania.

Then the Cup came to the United States and was no longer ignored on US shores. Held every fourth summer, it is the single-most important event in the game.

Now, America has seen the World Cup first-hand. Now, it has a professional league of its own. So now, surely things are different.

But maybe not.

This time ignorance of the great event may come from an unsuspected source: Major League Soccer (MLS).

While America's premier soccer league is busily preparing for the start of its sophomore season on March 22, more than a few concerned fans are looking to 1998 and the scheduling problems the next World Cup may create.

If the US national soccer team qualifies for the 1998 World Cup - which appears likely - MLS will have a tough decision to make: shut the league down for four weeks in the middle of the season, or play that month without its best players.

Even if the US doesn't qualify, the decision would still not be easy. Many of the league's best foreign players - like MVP Colombian Carlos Valderrama - would not be available if their countries qualified.

Most professional soccer leagues avoid this problem by playing in the fall, winter, and spring. Not MLS. It plays during the summer so it can avoid scheduling conflicts with American football.

As of now, commissioner Doug Logan doesn't think the league can afford to take a month break during the World Cup.

"In our first, formative years, we cannot afford to be out of sight, out of mind" for up to a month, he said during a media conference call. Instead, the schedule may be thinned out so fewer games are played in July than normal, he added.

Frank Dell'Apa, soccer writer for the Boston Globe, says something must be done.

"The man on the street changes his schedule to watch these games," he says. "Everybody changes everything. At the very least, they've got to modify [the schedule]."

The decision will not be made until late this year. In MLS, like all other leagues around the world, games played for one's country almost always take precedence over those played for one's professional team.

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