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Proposed League Dealt Blow : Soccer: APSL unanimously rejects new proposed "single entity" league, but could pay price if MLS takes off.

October 06, 1994|GRAHAME L. JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Major League Soccer, Alan Rothenberg's proposed first-division league that is supposed to begin operation next spring, received another setback Wednesday.

Actually, it was more of a slap in the face.

The American Professional Soccer League unanimously rejected an overture from MLS officials that the two leagues join forces.

But, if MLS gets off the ground in April, as league officials are confident will happen, it could be the APSL owners who turn out to be hurt by their rejection of the MLS offer. The APSL could be left as a second-division league in the shadow of MLS.

The sticking point for APSL owners is MLS's intention to operate as a so-called "single-entity" league, with the league owning all the teams and the player contracts.

Richard Groff, a former U.S. Soccer Federation treasurer who became APSL commissioner after narrowly losing the USSF presidential election to Rothenberg in August, said APSL owners are vehemently against the concept.

"It (Wednesday's rejection) was totally unanimous," Groff said. "There were some people who were emphatic and didn't even want to discuss it. There were others who wanted to sit down and do an economic analysis. In the end, they said this is not an attractive alternative.

"The owners of the APSL are opposed to the idea of a single-entity concept. They prefer to own their teams, to own the players, to develop the teams in their marketplace and to be responsible for 100% of the income and the expenses."

Groff said the APSL response should not be taken as a rejection of MLS as a whole, only to its proposed structure.

"We're saying no to single entity, but we're not saying no to an organization that wants to build an excellent professional league across North America," he said.

"We would like to be an integral part of that organization."

But Wednesday's APSL action appears to have ended that possibility, at least in the near future.

Mark Abbott, senior vice president of MLS, indicated Wednesday afternoon that APSL teams no longer will be considered as prospective MLS participants.

MLS had offered APSL owners the chance to take part in the new league last October and reiterated it two weeks ago.

Now, that offer has been both rejected and withdrawn.

"They've obviously made their decision and they're going to go their way and we're going to go ours," Abbott said.

"We believe our structure that we've adopted is the right structure for us and we're going to continue on with that. If they don't choose to be a part of that structure, that's their decision to make, but we're not going to modify our structure in any way."

Wednesday's developments indicate that MLS and the APSL will go head to head next year in the battle to sign players and to attract fans.

Groff said the APSL also will try to change current USSF rules that state there can be only one first-division league in the country.

The APSL currently operates as a seven-team league with franchises in the Los Angeles, Vancouver, Seattle, Montreal, Toronto, Fort Lauderdale and Denver markets. It is expected to expand to Detroit and Atlanta, and possibly reactivate Tampa Bay, next season.

MLS, meanwhile, remains a league in name only. It has a logo, a television contract with ESPN, several contracts with equipment manufactures, but no players or coaches or even team names.

Last June, just before the World Cup, Rothenberg announced the acceptance of seven charter franchises in MLS: Los Angles, Boston, Columbus (Ohio), New York, New Jersey, San Jose and Washington.

In addition, he said, another five would be added later in the year from among Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Sacramento, Seattle, Tampa and Tulsa.

So far, however, there has been no announcement of additional franchises.

Abbott said MLS is working strongly behind the scenes to capitalize the league and will be making its announcement within the next month or two.

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