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The only role left for Mutiny is as a spoiler

However, Tampa Bay can make Dallas' playoff path more difficult.

By RODNEY PAGE

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 29, 2001


However, Tampa Bay can make Dallas' playoff path more difficult.

The number sign says it all.

On the left side of "Tampa Bay" in the official Major League Soccer standings there is the dreaded symbol for teams eliminated from playoff contention: #. The Mutiny is the only team with that mark next to its name.

The only team reduced to spoilers with four games left in the season.

Tonight's opponent, Dallas, pounded the final nail in a coffin that has been awaiting the Mutiny for several weeks, perhaps even months, with a 3-0 win over Kansas City on Saturday. Dallas still is fighting for the eighth and final playoff spot and would be on the verge with a win tonight.

Only the Mutiny can spoil its hopes, which is about the only motivation left in this poor season.

"Spoilers," Mutiny coach Perry Van Der Beck said. "I guess that's all that's left."

Well, there is one other thing. The Mutiny could become the most futile team in MLS' six-year history if it loses its last four games.

New York/New Jersey was 7-25 in 1999 with 15 points. Three of those wins came in shootouts, which were eliminated before the 2000 season.

The Mutiny is 4-18-2 with 14 points. A win would spare the Mutiny of having the worst point total. It would take three wins in the next four games to spare it of the worst win total. The MetroStars played 32 games in 1999 compared to 28 this season.

Futility aside, Van Der Beck is not only worried about finishing this season on a winning note, but also looking toward next season. Every game is a tryout, and Van Der Beck is attempting to make that perfectly clear to the players.

"We had a long conversation on Thursday after practice. I think I went on for an hour and a half," Van Der Beck said. "Just so there's no questions from here on out. I'll tell you, I'll show you. Learn from that. I told them, "I'm here to help you guys.' Just so they know what to expect.

"As far as next year, it's not too early to start thinking about that. But because of the way I am, I still want to win every game we play."

The Mutiny might have found something in Sunday's scoreless tie against New England. For the first time in several games, Tampa Bay's defense showed promise with the addition of Chad McCarty and Diego Sonora.

Sonora flew 20 hours from Argentina on Saturday and played all 100 minutes Sunday at right back. He'll start tonight and expects to be back next season.

"It wasn't hard at all (playing with his new team)," Sonora said through a team interpreter. "The hardest thing for me was adjusting to the climate here because it's cold in Argentina right now and it's very hot here. But I had no problem playing with these guys. I'm looking forward to making this a better team this season and next year also."

McCarty played central defense and lasted 46 minutes before aggravating his left ankle, which he broke opening night against Dallas. McCarty put his weight on the leg while trapping a pass and felt pain.

The pain didn't go away during Tuesday's practice. He will not play tonight.

"No go," McCarty said. "It still hurts too much."

But when McCarty is healthy, and when Sonora, Eric Denton and Steve Trittschuh play together, the Mutiny has a serviceable defense that can give goalkeeper Adin Brown a break.

"(The defense) played well," Van Der Beck said. "We still had a few mistakes that we need to correct, but it was encouraging. Right now you're trying to find out what works, not only for the rest of this year, but for next season as well."

Tonight: Mutiny vs. Dallas

WHEN/WHERE: 7, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa.

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

COACHES: Burn -- Mike Jeffries. Mutiny -- Perry Van Der Beck.

RECORDS: Burn -- 9-11-4. Mutiny -- 4-18-2.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Burn -- F Ariel Graziani, F Jason Kreis, M Oscar Pareja, M Chad Deering, G Matt Jordan. Mutiny -- F Mamadou Diallo, G Adin Brown, M Danny Pena, M Steve Ralston, D Diego Sonora.

NOTES: Mutiny D Chad McCarty is doubtful after aggravating his left ankle Sunday against New England. McCarty broke the ankle April7 against Dallas. M Ali Curtis is questionable with a left hamstring strain. F Eric Quill is out with a red-card suspension. ... The Mutiny is 1-2 against the Burn this season. ... If Dallas wins it will take a 7-point lead over New England for the eighth and final playoff spot. A Mutiny win would help New England, D.C. and Colorado, all chasing Dallas. ... Sonora played for the Burn in 1996 and part of '97 and was a two-time All-Star with the Burn. ... This is the last Wednesday night home match for the Mutiny and the second-to-last home game of the season. -- Compiled by Rodney Page.

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