By RODNEY PAGE
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 30, 2001
The Mutiny's frustrating season got even worse Tuesday when Carlos Valderrama punched forward Eric Quill in the face during the team's first practice since Saturday's 4-0 loss to Miami.
Valderrama also took a swing at midfielder Josh Keller, who tried to break up the fight. After a few minutes of arguing near midfield, goalkeeper Scott Garlick, who stayed near the north goal, took off his gloves and walked off the field, yelling, "This is totally unacceptable."
After gathering his players for a brief talk, coach Alfonso Mondelo cut practice short. Mondelo refused to comment after practice.
"I think it's just frustration boiling over," said general manager Bill Manning, who met with Valderrama late Tuesday. "I've got to see what kind of mind-set he's in, but the bottom line is, our leaders have to act like leaders."
The fight started when Quill and rookie midfielder Albert Munoz challenged for a ball on the right side of the field. Munoz pushed Quill, and Quill retaliated with an elbow to the face.
Quill walked away, but Valderrama ran from midfield and landed a punch. The rest of the team swarmed to both players trying to break up the fight, and Valderrama turned to Keller and swung at him.
Valderrama continued to yell at Quill and Keller, but neither retaliated. After a few more minutes of arguing, Garlick left the field in disgust, thus ending practice.
"It's a little unfortunate because we don't need that stuff the way things are going," defender Steve Trittschuh said of the 2-6-1 Mutiny. "We've all got to stick together. (Valderrama's) a perfectionist, and he wants things to go well. Maybe it does take something like this to pull us together. Who knows."
Tampa Bay has a six-game winless streak and is off to its worst start since 1998. It might be without Valderrama for Saturday's home game against Kansas City because Valderrama spit in the face of Miami's Ian Bishop after the game and also pushed a security guard.
Valderrama did not receive a red card. Referee Kevin Stott reported the incident to Major League Soccer. MLS's disciplinary committee should rule on Valderrama today or Thursday.
Valderrama also did not stay for a scheduled autograph session after the game.
Though Manning is seeking to make trades after the team's poor start, it is unlikely he will trade the 39-year-old Valderrama.
"These incidents tend to feed on themselves," Manning said. "I think some of the things that were done after the Miami game were unprofessional. It's a situation where we have to look at the long term of the team. What's going to put this team in the best shape."
HELP ON THE WAY: Manning has been working the phones trying to find a forward to complement Mamadou Diallo. Manning also would like to find some defensive help, but things are looking better on that end of the field.
Defenders Chad McCarty and Trittschuh practiced Tuesday. For Trittschuh, who is returning from a right fibula broken in an April 4 practice, it was the first time he went through a full practice.
McCarty only practiced lightly. He is returning from a broken left ankle in the April 7 season opener at Dallas.
Trittschuh hopes to get some minutes Saturday.
"The only thing I felt today was being winded from soccer fitness," Trittschuh said. "You can run all day like I have been but it's nothing like playing. If I can get that back in the next few days then maybe I can get 45 or 60 minutes Saturday."