The Major Soccer League will operate with a one-division format due to the folding of the Kansas City Comets, which left the league with seven teams.
Four teams will make the playoffs, with the No. 1 finisher playing No. 4 and No. 2 playing No. 3. The MSL, however, will still have East and West All-Star teams for the midseason classic, with Baltimore, Cleveland and Dallas making up the East and St. Louis, San Diego, Tacoma and Wichita the West.
Here is how The Evening Sun predicts the regular-season finish.
* CLEVELAND (last season 29-23, East champ): The Crunch returns 10 from last season's Eastern Division champion, which lost to San Diego in the championship series. Zoran Karic (73 goals, 48 assists), Hector Marinaro (63, 44) Michael King (46, 17) and Andy Schmetzer (28, 17). return to an offense that scored a record 322 goals last season.
Meanwhile, the defense is solid with goalkeeper P.J. Johnsurrounded by George Fernandez, Gregg Willin, Marco Rizi, Theo Kulsdom and free-agent addition Chico Moreira from Wichita.
In addition, veteran All-Star midfielder Kai Haaskivi is working oa comeback from knee surgery.
* ST. LOUIS (32-20, runner-up in West): Storm coach DoPopovic attracted Preki to St. Louis last season. This year, San Diego star Branko Segota comes on board. Where Segota goes, championships follow. He is the only man in the MSL to own nine championship rings: three from the New York Arrows days (1979-1982) and six with the Sockers.
Besides Preki (68 G, 53 A) and Segota (26-27 in 33 games), the offense is enhanced by Ted Eck (27, 20) and Kevin Hundelt (29, 15), both former Kansas City Comets, and two National Professional Soccer League players, Mirko Castillo (63, 30 with Chicago) and George Pastor (53, 20 with Milwaukee).
The defense is in the masterful hands of player/assistant coacFernando Clavijo, Mark Frederickson, Greg Muhr and goalkeeper Zoltan Toth.
* SAN DIEGO (34-18, West champ, MSL champion): Uh-oh. Sockers coach Ron Newman is complaining the inexperience of his team could "put us in a similar position as last year when we lost all our defense." It was such a big problem, the Sockers won their ninth indoor championship.
If Newman comes to terms with midfielder Brian Quinn, who wants to continue his indoor career while playing for the U.S. National team, San Diego could roll, despite the loss of Paul Wright, Rod Castro, Waad Hirmez and Segota.
On board are All-Stars Tim Wittman (30 G, 24 A in 33 games) from the Blast and Thompson Usiyan (64, 38), acquired in the Segota trade with St. Louis. Returning are Paul Dougherty (43, 19) and Wes Wade (21, 15).
Playoff MVP midfielder Ben Collins is back, as is All-Stadefender Kevin Crow. Goalkeeper Victor Nogueira led the league in everything: games played 47, saves 569, goals-against average 4.37, and won/lost record 31-16.
* BALTIMORE (21-31, tied for last in East): After missing the playoffs for the first time in team history, the Blast shook up its roster. Gone are veterans Tim Wittman, Scott Manning, Richard Chinapoo, Bruce Savage and Dale Mitchell.
Veteran defender Michael Reynolds died after suffering a strokduring a volleyball game that was part of a team appearance last July.
Coach Kenny Cooper is taking a defense-first approach, angiven the offensive philosophy everywhere else, it might not be a bad idea. All-Star defender Iain Fraser comes in from Kansas City, as does Doug Neely. From St. Louis come defenders David Eise and Emil Dragicevic. Former Tacoma goalkeeper Cris Vaccaro replaces Manning.
As for the offense: Leading goal scorer Domenic Mobilio (49 G, 33 A) returns, as do midfielders Billy Ronson (33, 68) and Rusty Troy (28, 16). They will be bolstered by Rod Castro and Waad Hirmez of the Sockers.
* DALLAS SIDEKICKS (20-32, last in West): For the first time in franchise history, Dallas has a blazing two-gun attack. Tatu, the indomitable, returns for his eighth season as the MSL's leading scorer (78 G, 66 A for 144 points), with Jan Goossens, last season's No. 4 scorer (53, 58) with the Kansas City Comets, providing the double shot.
Kevin Smith (30, 38) also returns up front and David Doyle (12 G4 A in 15 games) is attempting to come back from a broken leg. Joe Papaleo, 30, continues in goal, with former Blast keeper Hank Henry as backup. The defense is manned by Wes McLeod, Mike Uremovich, Mike Powers and Troy Snyder. Veteran Richard Chinapoo will help at midfield and on defense.
* TACOMA (25-27, third in West): The Stars stayed in contention last season with tenacious defense from Ralph Black, Joe Waters, Neil Megson and Fred Thompson. They're back and this season they're going to have help on offense.
Tacoma now has a big scorer in Dale Mitchell (42 G, 40 A). Witthe addition of midfielder Carl Valentine from Kansas City, the Stars have, perhaps, the premier playmaker in the league.
With Cris Vaccaro joining the Blast, the one big question mark was goalkeeper. But coach Keith Weller fixed that with the addition of Mike Dowler from Kansas City.
* WICHITA (21-31, tied for last in East): The Wings' fans rallied tbuy more than 5,000 season tickets to save the franchise. Now the team will try to make the investment pay off.
Leading scorers Dale Ervine (62 G, 30 A), Chico Borja (29, 41and David Byrne (16, 21) are back, joined by talented Dan Donigan (24, 19), who has come over from St. Louis.
Add stellar Kim Roentved, formerly of Kansas City, to thdefensive mix of Terry Rowe, Danny Pena and Jim McGeough and the Wings begin to take flight. Kris Peat returns in goal.