Expansion is never far from the lips and dreams of Major Soccer League owners, but in Dallas, Sidekicks owner Don Carter has his staff drawing up a unique blueprint that could be the answer not only to the MSL's expansion problems but the NBA owners' problems with open dates in their own arenas.
Carter, of course, also owns the NBA Mavericks. The idea his staff is working on is to show NBA owners, who also own the buildings their teams play in, how owning an MSL team "could be a benefit without detriment" to the NBA team.
"The NBA owners with arenas would be able to fill 20 dates in their buildings and make revenue off concessions and parking," said Dallas coach Gordon Jago. "The Mavericks' staff does everything for us, at minimum expense to themselves. And for us, it could be a very interesting way to bring in new franchises."
No doubt franchise expansion will be among the top priorities at the MSL winter meetings here Feb. 12. In fact, the suspicion is if the MSL doesn't find a way to expand by two or three teams next season, the El Foldo act that follows might make the number seven -- as in the number of franchises currently in the MSL -- look like a cast of thousands, well, tens anyway.
The idea out of Dallas may seem like pie-in-the-sky or a golden parachute dream, but it also could be a real answer to a number of MSL problems -- operating expenses and arena dates among them.
And, on a more poetic note, isn't there something just a little delightful in the thought of the NBA, created in the United States, providing an umbrella under which indoor soccer, another purely American invention, could prosper and grow?
* AMERICAN AGENDA: Dale Ervine already has done some pretty amazing things this season: like being the only player to score in every game and leading the Wings to the top of the MSL. But what he is working on now would be nothing short of remarkable.
In the league's 13-year history, no American-born player has ever won the goal-scoring race. But 19 games in this 14th season, Ervine is showing staying power. His 30 goals are good enough to tie him for the lead with Dallas' Tatu. Ervine (30 goals, 23 assists, 53 points) also is second to Tatu (30 goals, 25 assists, 55 points) in the points race, marking the first time since 1988-89 that an American has been this close to the top this late in the season.
"Isn't that great?" said Wichita coach Roy Turner. "I'm so pleased for Dale -- for Chico [Borja]. They are the only two American scorers in the Top 15. But I haven't any doubt this is the way this game is going. American players are the future of this league."
* ALL WRIGHT: San Diego forward Paul Wright was Mr. Everything for the Sockers last weekend. First he assisted on the game-tying goal in Wichita Saturday that sent the game into overtime, then produced the game-winning goal for the 9-8 victory. He followed that with the game-winning goal Sunday in the Sockers' 6-3 victory over the Blast. For his performance, Wright is the MSL's Offensive Player of the Week.
* ALL RADWANSKI: Tacoma is on a rare three-game winning streak, thanks in large part to the performance of Neptune, N.J., native Ed Radwanski, who played defense as if he was from another planet and earned Defender of the Week honors. The 5-foot-9 midfielder held St. Louis star Preki to one assist in Tacoma's 5-4 overtime victory Wednesday, then shut out Tatu, in a 3-2 decision Sunday.
* ATTENDANCE CHECK: Could this be the start of a trend? In Baltimore, attendance is up 17 percent to 7,828; in Cleveland it's up 27 percent from a year ago to 6,155; in Wichita, after having to turn 500 fans away at the door Sunday, the Wings average is up 23 percent to 8,889, the highest in its history. The numbers are even better in San Diego, up 30 percent to 10,025.
Only Dallas (5,958) and Tacoma (4,652), each down 13 percent, damage the rosy picture.
Overall the MSL is averaging 7,319, 9 percent better than last year.
* COOPERISM NO. MXXVIII: "You're building a mountain," admonished Blast coach Kenny Cooper, following back-to-back road losses that dropped the Blast to 10-12 and into a three-way battle for the last playoff spot with 18 games to go. "But remember, men climb mountains, moles climb hills."
Cooper said the 10-2 loss in Dallas and the 6-3 setback in San Diego have placed the team in a critical situation.
"We have to win . . . our next four home games," Cooper said. "It's the last opportunity to have to get to the next level."
After the four-game homestand in early February, the Blast hits the road for eight of its last 14 games.
* THE KALINE FACTOR: When former Detroit Tigers slugger Al Kaline hung up his bat, he was one short of 400 home runs. Could a similar fate go into the record books on San Diego midfielder Brian Quinn?