United Still Stand
Major League Soccer returned for its sophomore season and although the fan frenzy had cooled some there are still signs of a positive future for the league. Yes, overall attendance was down slightly, but the league signed a new television deal with ABC/ESPN, guaranteeing short term stability.
The product on the field, though it has miles to go before it can be equated with the top leagues in Europe or South America, improved somewhat and expansion franchises were awarded in Miami and Chicago.
By the end of the season, MLS Coach of the Year Bruce Arena's Washington D.C. United proved they were, once again, far and away the best team in the league. Now winners of back-to-back league championships, the United defeated the upstart Colorado Rapids, 2-1, in MLS '97 in front of over 57,000 hearty fans at a blustery RFK Stadium. United forward Jaime Moreno scored in the game's 37th minute and won the game's MVP award.
The Rapids were still a great story. Though the finished in dead last a year ago and barely made the playoffs with their 14-18 record, they put it all together in the postseason and swept both the Kansas City Wizards and Dallas Burn in best-of-three series to earn a spot in the championship game.
On the international scene, the U.S. National team became the 23rd team to qualify for the 1998 World Cup to be held in France. After several weeks when it appeared that their third straight World Cup bid was in jeopardy, the U.S. was finally able to take care of business. First they were able to escape Mexico City with a scoreless tie against Bora Multinovic's first-place Mexican team following their lackluster performance at home against the Jamaicans. Then. their impressive 3-0 win at Canada, their first ever in a Cup qualifier on Canadian grass, along with Costa Rica's tie with Mexico and Jamaica's tie with El Salvador lifted Steve Sampson's squad into the elite field of 32.
Eric Cantona, 30, surprised many when he abruptly announced his retirement after a bumpy 13-year career, the last five of which had been spent in the English Premier League with Manchester United. The gifted Frenchman unfortunately may best be remembered for his shocking "kung-fu" kick on a fan in 1995. Despite a mediocre season in 1997, Cantona was still at the top of his game and many thought he might return to French soccer or perhaps head for Japan. But instead on May 18 he announced he was leaving the sport altogether.