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Good Times for MLS, East Stars

Soccer: Diallo leads six-goal surge in 9-4 victory. Galaxy's Jones assists on all of West's goals.

July 30, 2000|GRAHAME L. JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mamadou Diallo sparked a second-half comeback Saturday afternoon as the East scored six unanswered goals to defeat the West, 9-4, at the fifth Major League Soccer All-Star game, in Columbus, Ohio.

Diallo, the Tampa Bay Mutiny striker from Senegal who leads the league in scoring, netted two goals and set up a third in a six-minute blitz as the East turned a 4-3 halftime deficit into an easy victory in front of a sellout crowd of 23,495 at Columbus Crew Stadium.

Galaxy forward-midfielder Cobi Jones assisted on each of the West goals, one scored by Los Angeles teammate Mauricio Cienfuegos.

The quality of the game, the fact that it was staged in a soccer-specific facility and the size of the crowd all underlined the comments MLS Commissioner Don Garber made the day before in his "state of the league" address.

The league, Garber said, "has made great strides in our five short years. While you have heard this before, let me remind you again that it took the NBA 29 years to average 10,000 fans per game.

"We are not nearly satisfied at where we are today and there is much work to be done before we achieve our goals. We are fully committed . . . toward increasing the quality of the game on the field, the popularity of the game off it, and the overall credibility of professional men's soccer.

"There are more than 50 million people in this country who say they are soccer fans. Not nearly enough of them are fans of MLS. That's our market. Going forward, it will be the focus of every decision we make.

"We have secured more than $140 million in long-term sponsorships and there continues to be a great deal of interest from corporations looking to become involved with the league.

"In a world where sports TV ratings are decreasing, MLS ratings are up 3% on ESPN and up 19% in the all-important men 18-to-34-year-old demographic group. With nearly half our schedule left on ESPN2, our overall rating to date is down slightly. However, in the men 18-34 demographic, our ratings are 37% higher than last season.

"For the first time, our key demographic ratings on ESPN2 are equal to major league baseball [and] greater than the NHL's."

Garber's speech focused on two other key areas--building additional soccer-only stadiums and league expansion.

"Columbus Crew Stadium is the pride and envy of everyone in MLS," he said, "but we need more. The Los Angeles Galaxy has a firm commitment to build a new stadium and their plans clearly will up the ante on design, construction and fan amenities.

"The [New York/New Jersey] MetroStars and Chicago Fire are also making progress. We are also very excited about the new Foxboro [Mass.] Stadium, slated for completion by the 2002 MLS season. It will have a 30,000-seat lower bowl with great soccer viewing lines."

Expansion, he said, would increase MLS visibility and impact.

"We need to expand our national footprint for television and media support. We will expand by two teams by 2002. We are targeting a second team in the New York tri-state area as well as [an additional] team, likely in either Philadelphia or Atlanta.

"We are in active discussions with potential investors for Tampa and Dallas [both league-operated teams], as well as [for] potential expansion in Houston, Seattle, Rochester, [N.Y.], and Sacramento in 2004."

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