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Rothenberg woos a jilted Tampa Bay for new league

For some area soccer enthusiasts, Alan Rothenberg was and forever will be the fiend who chose Orlando over Tampa Bay as a World Cup site.

But now, he apparently wants to be Tampa Bay's friend.

Rothenberg is urging area officials to bid for one of the 12 franchises in his new outdoor professional league, the Major Soccer League, which is set to begin in April, 1995.

"He recognizes a lot of people hold him responsible for not awarding World Cup here and that's why he called me. to assure me that they (MSL officials) were very interested in Tampa and one thing doesn't have to do with the other," Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman said.

Several MSL officials also have called University of South Florida athletic director Paul Griffin, delivering a similar message as well as discussing the possibility of helping finance a stadium on the campus. The league wants to play in 20,000- to 30,000-seat facilities and USF would need one of that size if its dream of starting a football program is realized.

"They have indicated to Tampa, and specifically to USF, that they are looking to invest $3-million to $4-million in a prototype stadium," Griffin said, recognizing that his school could be a beneficiary of the MSL.

Yet the question this time is whether Tampa Bay is receptive to Rothenberg and his plan.

Nearly 30 communities have expressed an interest in serving as homes for teams, which will be owned and operated by the league. MSL officials expect 20 or 25 bids by the May 15 deadline.

Besides outlining the availability of a temporary home (Tampa Stadium in this area's case, assuming about $1-million in renovations to widen the field are done) and plans for a permanent one (USF), the MSL wants 10,000 season-ticket deposits _ $75 for adults and $35 for children _ in the bid proposals.

That won't be easy. The Tampa Bay Lightning of the NHL, an entrenched sports league, sold only about 4,500 season tickets for its inaugural season two years ago. And it had more than 10 weeks to do that.

You also can't help but wonder if the fate of the Tampa Bay Rowdies, who averaged fewer than 2,000 fans this past season and recently went dormant when a sale fell through, doesn't bode ill for any season-ticket drive.

But others dismiss the Rowdies and the MSL as apples and oranges. Griffin pointed out that the MSL plans to have $100-million in its coffers to establish _ and promote _ teams. And no one questions the mass appeal of the sport locally.

"We have around 75,000 youths playing soccer, so if you're able to sell one-tenth of the youth, you're talking about 7,500," said Joe Abrahams, the administrator of parks, recreation and cultural services in Tampa.

"Now, multiply the parents and you've far exceeded the number," he said. "And that's not even taking into account the corporations and service clubs. The possibility of hitting 10,000 is there."

In case you were wondering: The Los Angeles earthquake did no damage to the Rose Bowl, the site of eight World Cup games, including a semifinal and the championship. "We had the building inspectors out the day after and we passed with flying colors," L.A. venue spokesperson Sue Carpenter said.

For what it's worth: A recent Harris poll indicated that America's knowledge about the World Cup has grown in the past four months, but most people still know little about it.

Of the 1,252 adults telephoned early last month, 25 percent said they knew the World Cup involved soccer and 18 percent said they realized the final was in the United States this year. In contrast, a poll taken in October showed that only 21 percent connected the World Cup and soccer and 11 percent said they knew the final was here in '94.

"I don't think there's any reason for us to be disappointed," U.S. World Cup official John Griffin said. "This isn't Germany. This isn't England. We have to look at it from a very positive standpoint. The numbers are increasing and I think they will continue to increase."

Trading cards: The Upper Deck trading card company is expected to introduce this month what it calls its "most ambitious" project _ the 1994 World Cup Contenders Set.

The 325-card set, which will be available in more than 20 countries and five different languages, features players from teams that have qualified for the finals. It also includes 10 cards showcasing the U.S. women's team as well as special "You Crash the Cup" instant-win contest cards. Ten winners will get a trip for two to the championship.

Up ahead: The U.S. national team will play a benefit game against South Korea on Saturday at California State-Fullerton. Proceeds will go to help victims of the recent L.A. earthquake.

Substitute rule: Three substitutes _ one more than in the past _ will be allowed starting with this summer's World Cup. The rule change, approved Saturday by soccer's rule-making International Football Association Board in Switzerland, will allow coaches to bring in two field subs and a designated replacement goalkeeper during a match. The goalie used to be included among the two substitutes.

Tackling crackdown: Also, FIFA wants referees to move harshly against "reckless" fouls, including tackles from behind. General secretary Joseph Blatter reiterated that he wants mandatory expulsion for rear tackles written into the game's laws.

Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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