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Galaxy Looking to Model Complete MLS Package

March 30, 2003|Joseph White | Associated Press

If the Galaxy don't make money this season, then maybe there's just none to be made in professional soccer in the United States.

The Galaxy are moving into one of the best soccer-only stadiums in the world -- the 27,000-seat Home Depot Center, complete with luxury boxes, club seats, training center and a spiffy European-style overhanging roof to hold in the crowd noise.

And, by the way, the Galaxy are the defending Major Soccer League champions -- and they happen to be the host for this year's title game. They've improved their roster and are so loaded that anything but a repeat will be an upset.

"We are going to see some sellouts," said General Manger Doug Hamilton, a prediction he could never make when his team played in the Rose Bowl. "There are going to be games when we're turning people away."

And so the pressure is on. Not just to win games, but to achieve that MLS rarity -- a profit. If this doesn't work, the league will be stagnant at best and doomed at worst.

"I think that it's critical that we get a modest profit out of this," Hamilton said. "By modest, I mean anything above 'dead-even' qualifies. If this club goes and proves the model, that you can be financially viable, we think there are multiple communities interested in following suit."

Those who can't wait any longer to see the new stadium will have to. It won't be ready until June 7, forcing the Galaxy to open the season with a league-record eight-game road trip.

The Galaxy kicks off MLS' eighth season next Saturday on ABC with a visit to the Columbus Crew, home of the league's only other made-for-soccer stadium. The rest of the 10-team league begins play the following weekend.

The Crew opened their stadium in 1999 and they've turned a profit by using the facility to host other sporting events and concerts. The Columbus-Los Angeles model is the same: If a team can control its own scheduling, parking fees, concessions and ticket revenue rather than playing second-banana in a borrowed football stadium, then soccer has a chance.

But Columbus is the MLS' smallest market, with only an NHL team to share the local pro spotlight. Los Angeles is something else altogether. The league needs a big presence in big markets in order to grow.

And if it works, soccer stadiums on drawing boards in Dallas, Washington, New Jersey and Kansas City could finally get the go-ahead. And the dozen or so cities that have expressed interest in an expansion team will line up a little faster. A bigger nationwide presence could lead to something the league really needs for good financial footing -- a big TV contract.

"There is pressure on this organization," Hamilton said. "We're well-suited to meet the challenge, but at the same time the goals are lofty."

In contrast to the uncertainty off the field, MLS' actual product continues to improve. The rise in quality of play was evident last year at the World Cup, where 12 MLS players led the U.S. to its best showing in 72 years.

This year, MLS welcomes its first French player, Colorado midfielder Gilles Grimandi, who came from Arsenal in the English Premier League. South Korean World Cup hero Hong Myung Bo joins the Galaxy. Longtime U.S. national team forward Earnie Stewart signed with D.C. United after 14 seasons in the Netherlands. Joe-Max Moore is back in New England after three seasons with England's Everton.

"The league, American players are just getting so much better," D.C. United Coach Ray Hudson said. "You watch a game from last season, and you watch a game from the first year of the league, it's night and day."

It'll be easier to keep track of who plays where this season. Six of the 10 teams kept their key players intact, a strong show of stability compared to last year, when Miami and Tampa Bay were dissolved and their rosters dispersed throughout the league. In addition, six coaches have now been with their teams three years or longer.

There was some movement. Chicago, unloading from salary cap strain for the second straight offseason, sent Josh Wolff to Kansas City. The biggest trade involved the two teams that didn't make the playoffs -- United and the MetroStars -- with Eddie Pope and Jaime Moreno going to the Meadowlands to join new coach Bob Bradley.

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