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Thursday, March 29, 2001
Updated: April 6, 12:28 PM ET
The Division Winners

By by Jeff Bradley

I've been looking. Actually, I've been searching for inspiration for my MLS Previews, asking myself, What can I do to make my previews stand out from the others you'll find online? More tactical analysis? That's a thought. Player ratings? Hmmm, maybe. Strengths and weaknesses and intangibles and sleeper picks and ... oh forget it.

I'm going for laughs. Which is not to say I wasn't inspired. I was, in fact, moved to the theme I am about to unveil by a MetroStars press release announcing an NASL Reunion this summer featuring Pele and other members of the old Cosmos.

Those were great times in my life, the Cosmos years. I remember sitting in the third deck at Giants Stadium ($4 for a general admission ticket) with my brothers, watching Pele, Beckenbauer and Chinaglia strut across the famed artificial turf. I remember the sights, the smells and, oh yes, the sounds.

I'm talking about the Cosmos theme song, written, aranged and produced by the Average White Band. The lyrics, to the best of my memory, went something like this...

Cosmos, Cosmos, Cosmos, Cosmos, Cosmos, Cosmos, yeah!
Cosmos, Cosmos, Cosmos, Cosmos, Cosmos, Cosmos, yeah!
Clap, Clap, Clap-Clap-Clap, Clap-Clap-Clap-Clap Cosmos!
Clap, Clap, Clap-Clap-Clap, Clap-Clap-Clap-Clap Cosmos!
Repeat ...

Yes, those late-'70s, early-'80s days at Giants Stadium sent me into pre-adulthood with a new apprecation for the kind of music I couldn't get out of my mullet-covered head. Who can forget bands like A Flock of Seagulls, Wham! and Culture Club? (In case you haven't figured this out by now, I'm a Behind the Music junkie.)

So, the Boot Room is proud (in a smirky kind of way) to present Bad '80s theme songs for every team in MLS, as we preview 2001. You can thank me tomorrow, after a sleepless night caused by the inner-cranial drone of, let's say, Kajagoogoo or Corey Hart.

DIVISION WINNERS

East: MetroStars

"One Thing Leads to Another" (The Fixx)

"But when one little cross leads to shots, grit your teeth. You run for cover so discreet, why don't they: Do what they say, say what you mean, One thing leads to another, You told me something wrong, I know I listen too long, But then one thing leads to another ... "

The Luis Hernandez signing led Clint Mathis to New York, which led the MetroStars to the top of the Eastern Conference and to within one game of MLS Cup. A couple of pickups this year -- Pedro Alvarez and Richie Williams -- should give the Metros a more responsible midfield and a more balanced team. Just what am I trying to say? One thing ... yeah, one thing, leads to a-nuh-uh-uh-ther ... This is my pick to win it all. The only questions in The Swamp are in goal, where Tim Howard has talent but needs games, and on defense, where depth is as issue. If Mike Petke, Daniel Hernandez or Steve Jolley goes down, coach Octavio Zambrano may not have a defender in reserve who's capable of doing the job.

Probable Opening Day Lineup: 3-5-2.
Tim Howard, Mike Petke, Daniel Hernandez, Steve Jolley, Richie Williams, Pedro Alvarez, Mark Chung, Tab Ramos, Petter Villegas, Adolfo Valencia, Clint Mathis.

STYLE
A lot of players are good with the ball individually, but collectively this is not the smoothest-passing team ... Metros try to isolate defenders on players like Valencia and Mathis in the counter attack to exploit their one-on-one ability ... Defensively, the Metros rely on aggressive marking from Petke and Jolley and prefer that Hernandez stay deep rather than wander into midfield. Hernandez is also a very dangerous long-passer.

Central: Dallas Burn

Is There Something I Should Know? (Duran Duran)

"Please, please tell me now, is there something I should know?"

Like, are the Burn going to show up this season? I mean, geez, this is the team I picked to win it all last year, and they flamed out in the first round. Still, I like teams with a lot of weapons and the Burn still have a dynamic pair of strikers in Ariel Graziani and Jason Kreis and an experienced playmaker in Oscar Pareja -- with youngster Joselito Vaca waiting in the wings. They've also added the best attacking defender MLS has ever seen in Lubos Kubik, who can literally walk the ball through a defense on his own.

Probable Opening Day Lineup: 3-5-2
Matt Jordan, Eric Dade, Lubos Kubik, Richard Farrer, Ted Eck, Jorge Rodriguez, Miles Joseph, Oscar Pareja, Antonio Martinez, Jason Kreis, Ariel Graziani.

STYLE

A good ball possession team, especially on the smooth turf in the Cotton Bowl ... Still trying to learn how to play with the adventurous Kubik ... Reclamation project Miles Joseph is a question mark on the right flank, but there's an upside if he can rediscover the confidence he possessed in his first two MLS seasons ... With the right-footed Kreis and the left-footed Kubik over dead balls, this could be the best set-piece team in MLS ... New coach Mike Jefferies experimented with Vaca wide in the midfield during pre-season, but came away thinking the kid has to play in the middle of the field to be effective.

West: Los Angeles Galaxy

Everybody Wants to Rule the World (Tears for Fears)

"Say that you'll never never never never need it, One headline why believe it? Everybody wants to rule the world."

It is going to be very hard for the Galaxy to not be distracted by their July-August appointment at the World Club Championships in Spain. In fact, they'll most certainly be distracted because it's so important -- not to mention the chance to earn some big-time supplemental income. Still, L.A. is a super-organized outfit with a Rose Bowl-sized chip on its shoulder from five years of coming up empty in its quest for an MLS Cup. Look for second-year players Peter Vagenas and Sasha Victorine to step into more significant roles for Sigi Schmid. And, would you believe, Luis Hernandez, the $4 million man, has evolved into nothing more than a wild-card player. If the Galaxy get something out of him, they will be as surprised as anyone.

Probable Opening Day Lineup: 4-4-2
Kevin Hartman, Ezra Hendrickson, Alexi Lalas, Danny Califf, Greg Vanney, Simon Elliott, Peter Vagenas, Mauricio Cienfuegos, Cobi Jones, Sasha Victorine, Brian Ching.

STYLE

Very difficult to break down -- the Galaxy are very conscious of their defensive organization ... Attacking strength comes from the central midfield triangle of Elliott, Vagenas and Cienfuegos, as all are capable of delivering the killer pass ... Cienfuegos, like Carlos Valderrama in Tampa, can almost be classified as a forward at this point in his career. He's on the field to create, not destroy ... Hendrickson has the right side all to himself and is more of an attacking player than a defender. EZ is very important and dangerous in that position for the Galaxy, but teams that have a strong left-sided midfielder can sometimes capitalize on that territory when he runs forward ... Califf and Lalas fight for everything in the air, but both can be mistake-prone in center of defense.

Next: Playoff Teams

Jeff Bradley covers soccer for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail jeff.bradley@espnmag.com.