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Swoon leaves many questions

Considered an MLS Cup contender, the Mutiny instead is wallowing in last place.

By RODNEY PAGE

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 14, 2001


Its most recognizable player is gone. Its best goalkeeper is gone. Its coach is gone.

And with two months remaining in the Major League Soccer season, something else appears gone for the Mutiny: hope.

Tampa Bay has amassed a league worst 10 points (3-13-1) and is wallowing in last place with only a tie and a win in its past 14 games.

During the team's worst streak in its six-year history, the Mutiny traded midfield playmaker Carlos Valderrama and goalkeeper Scott Garlick, and coach Alfonso Mondelo resigned. More players may jump off this sinking ship before the season ends.

So what happened? In December, Tampa Bay fancied itself an MLS Cup contender. In July, it's an also-ran.

"As a unit, this team has the capability of being an MLS finalist," Mondelo said in a Dec. 7 news conference announcing his hiring.

But there were injuries, suspensions, fights at practice, mental lapses, bad luck and finally Mondelo's resignation last week.

"We're at the end of the line," general manager Bill Manning said.

It's shaping up to be the Mutiny's worst year, this after a 16-12-4 season in which the Mutiny made the playoffs. Every player except midfielder Manny Lagos returned, and expectations were high.

The Mutiny fell apart immediately with early injuries to defenders Steve Trittschuh and Chad McCarty, suspensions to Mamadou Diallo and Valderrama and bickering in the locker room. There have been 17 starting lineups.

Finding a definitive reason for the losses has not been easy.

"Honestly I don't know," Diallo said. "It's very frustrating. Nobody's happy here. I know the team is not happy about what's happening here. It's a very tough situation. I thought once we beat D.C. (3-2 on June23) things would be changed, but nothing has changed."

Diallo, who was the MLS scoring champ last season, has missed six games with suspensions and has scored eight goals and four assists, fourth best in the league. He has taken the losses hard and mentioned that he wouldn't mind being traded.

Tampa Bay talked with New York/New Jersey, Colorado and Los Angeles, but no deal has been arranged.

"As the player, I can't control that," Diallo said. "I have to keep playing. I'm here. I play here. I'm going to help my team win. I'm going to let the coach decide what's best for me."

The new coach is former assistant Perry Van Der Beck. His job is to turn things around. He believes the team needs a new attitude.

"We've had a lot of mental lapses," Van Der Beck said. "We've got to get everybody working together and believing in themselves. We still have a long way to go."

Midfielder Steve Ralston has been here from the beginning. He lived through the rebuilding year of 1998, when the team rallied to finish 12-20 after a 3-12 start. Getting through this season has not been easy.

"A lot of it became mental," Ralston said. "Our confidence is down. It's tough. The '98 season was bad, but this is worse. We're a much better team than we've shown."

The white flag was raised when Mondelo resigned July6.

"He is a friend of mine and a very nice man," Diallo said. "I still talk to him. He did a lot for me. The coach wasn't the problem. It's the players. The players have to take responsibility, and I feel bad for him because we didn't do the job."

The only thing the Mutiny can do in the final 11 games is play out the string.

"Our approach is to end the season with some positives and identify a foundation of players who can build toward an MLS Cup contender for future years," Manning said. "Obviously we've changed the face of the team a little bit and it's searching for an identity."

It's also searching for answers.

"We all had high hopes," Ralston said. "I don't know what happened. If I knew I would've said something a long time ago and maybe we could've changed it."

TONIGHT: MUTINY AT SAN JOSE

WHEN/WHERE: 4, Spartan Stadium, San Jose, Calif.

TV/RADIO: ESPN, WWBA-AM 1040, WAMA-AM 1550 (Spanish).

RECORDS: Mutiny -- 3-13-1. Earthquakes -- 8-3-5.

COACHES: Mutiny -- Perry Van Der Beck. Earthquakes -- Frank Yallop.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Mutiny -- F Mamadou Diallo, M Steve Ralston, G Adin Brown, D Steve Trittschuh, M Eric Quill. Earthquakes -- F Ronald Cerritos, M Manny Lagos, G Joe Cannon, F Landon Donovan, M Wade Barrett.

NOTES: Yallop played for the Mutiny from 1996 until his retirement in 1998, and was an assistant coach in 1999. Earthquakes assistant Dominic Kinnear played for Tampa Bay from 1998-2000 before retiring to join Yallop. Lagos played for the Mutiny last season. Tampa Bay has lost three straight. Its last shutout was 27 games ago, on July 22. San Jose had a 12-game unbeaten streak snapped Saturday against Colorado. It also played a U.S. Open Cup match Wednesday, a 1-0 penalty kick win over Milwaukee. San Jose D Jeff Agoos is doubtful with a back contusion. The Mutiny leads the overall series 10-2. Brown is from Pleasant Hills, Calif., an hour from San Jose. Backup goalkeeper Matt Nyman is out with migraine headaches. He is replaced by Jon Lowery of the D-3 League's Carolina Dynamo. Tampa Bay will stay in San Jose until Tuesday, and play at Dallas on Wednesday.

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