Outdoor game starts anew with MLS kickoff in San Jose D.C. United meets Clash in pro league's 1st game

April 06, 1996|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Cheers from thousands of American fans. Playing against other U.S. players in their home country. Television cameras capturing every shot.

It has been a dream for many U.S. soccer players. And it becomes a reality tonight at 8.

That's when D.C. United plays at the San Jose Clash in the inaugural game of Major League Soccer, which will be carried live by ESPN.

This represents the first attempt to start a major outdoor pro league since the North American Soccer League folded 11 years ago.

"It's been a long time coming," said John Harkes, the D.C. United and U.S. national team midfielder. "There's a bit of anxiety. It will be very strange to step out on the field against my own [U.S] teammates. I only hope [Clash defender] John Doyle doesn't knock me into the air like he used to in national team training."

The match, for which 31,000 seats have been sold out since March 29, will become the best-attended soccer event in San Jose, said Clash general manager Peter Bridgwater, topping the 25,000 the NASL's San Jose Earthquakes drew in 1976 against Pele and the New York Cosmos.

But don't equate MLS with the NASL.

MLS consists mostly of American players and the league owns at least 51 percent of each team, with a cap on player salaries of $1.3 million per team. Thirteen members of the 1994 U.S. World Cup team have given up foreign contracts to play in the league, where the top salary is $175,000.

Season-ticket sales have ranged from about 1,000 for the Tampa Bay Mutiny to 8,500 for the Columbus (Ohio) Crew. League officials are looking for 10,000 to 12,000 fans per game this season.

The league is hoping to capture national attention with tonight's game, which showcases two of America's biggest stars.

The Clash has Eric Wynalda, who has scored more goals for the U.S. national team than any other player. The United is led by Harkes, a proven pro with extensive experience in the English premier and first divisions.

"It's not like I'm uncomfortable in big-game situations," D.C. United coach Bruce Arena said. "When the game starts, the only focus is going to be on winning it."

Pub Date: 4/06/96

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