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Mutiny and MLS start second leg

As Major League Soccer kicks off its second season tonight in San Jose, league officials are hoping there is no such thing as a sophomore jinx.

MLS exceeded attendance goals in its inaugural season and was successful at bringing in international talent. The league drew more than 90,000 fans for a June game in Los Angeles, and the MLS All-Star Game and MLS Cup match also were big hits.

Because of the success in its rookie year, expect only subtle changes this season. But that's not to say the league was idle during the off-season.

"Last year we were overcome by certain elements," MLS commissioner Doug Logan said. "We ran through last season in a reactive mode. This year we're much more organized."

The league also got what seems to be a rite of passage lately: a lawsuit.

Ten players _ one player representative from each team _ filed a class-action suit against the league for what they call "illegal" and "unfair" labor practices. The main issues of the suit deal with free agency and transfer fees.

The suit was filed in mid-February, but a resolution could be years away.

"Hey, only 2 years old, and we're already being sued," Mutiny president and general manager Nick Sakiewicz said. "To tell you the truth, it's not something I sit around thinking about every day. It may take a year or two before something is done."

Logan said there has been no movement on the suit, "and there probably won't be for a while." The players have not threatened a work stoppage.

The focus for now is the games. New York/New Jersey plays the Clash at 8 tonight in the opening game of the season. The rest of the league, including the Mutiny, starts March 29.

Weekend warriors

One of the biggest changes made was scheduling. After drawing an average of 17,416 last season _ 5,000 above expectations _ the league would like to increase that number by 15 percent.

Since MLS averaged 19,000 fans for weekend games, 90 percent of the matches this season will be played on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday. The Mutiny plays only one game on a weeknight: Thursday, Sept. 18, against Columbus.

The regular-season schedule is still 32 games and stretches from March 22 to Sept. 28.

"Leaguewide, we want to have 50,000 season tickets sold," Logan said. "We're heading in that direction, but we're not there yet."

The Mutiny has sold close to 1,500 season tickets, according to Sakiewicz.

There also will be a new playoff format. The top four teams in each five-team conference will advance to the playoffs, just as in last season.

The first and second rounds still will be best of three, but the top-seeded team will play Games 1 and 3 at home, instead of Game 1 on the road and the last two at home.

The MLS Cup is scheduled for Oct. 26 at RFK Stadium in Washington.

Yellow-card infractions will be assessed point values. Players will receive a one-game suspension for accumulation of 21 points.

They will be penalized four points for cards involving dissent, illegal tackling, tripping, shirt pulling, dangerous play or a deliberate hand ball that denies a player a chance to score. Three points will be assessed for obstruction, encroachment on a free kick and persistent noncard fouls. Two points are given for time-wasting, diving and faking injuries.

Last year, players were suspended one game for five yellow cards, regardless of their nature.

Money matters

The salary cap has been raised from $1.193-million to $1.3-million for each team. Each team also is allowed to add a fifth foreign player to its roster.

Some teams think the cap restricts them from signing top-notch foreign players, but MLS deputy commissioner Sunil Gulati doesn't see it that way.

"Not all teams are constrained," he said. "And if certain teams are constrained, it isn't a problem for us, it's a problem for the team. They'll have to make adjustments.

"This season will be a money losing year for us. The salary cap will allow us to be economically frugal as to how we pay players. When we start making money, we'll share those profits with the players."

Many of the rosters have not changed. The MetroStars' Roberto Donadoni, Los Angeles' Jorge Campos and the Mutiny's Carlos Valderrama are still the most widely known players.

But Italian national team goalie Walter Zenga (New England) and new MetroStars coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, who coached the Brazilian national team to the World Cup championship in 1994, are two internationally recognized figures joining the league this year.

Major League Soccer

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Roberto Donadoni (New York/New Jersey), Jorge Campos (Los Angeles), Carlos Valderrama (Tampa Bay), Eric Wynalda (San Jose), Raul Diaz Arce (Washington), Brad Friedel (Columbus), Tab Ramos (New York/New Jersey), Alexi Lalas (New England), Roy Wegerle (Colorado), Preki (Kansas City), Roy Lassiter (Tampa Bay), Cobi Jones (Los Angeles).

TOP NEWCOMERS: Walter Zenga (GK, New England), Martin Machon (D/M, Los Angeles), Daniel Peinado (M, Dallas), Richard Gough (D, Kansas City), Jacek Ziober (F, Tampa Bay), Carlos Alberto Parreira (coach, New York/New Jersey).

SCHEDULE: Season starts today and runs through Sept. 28. Playoffs begin a week after the season. MLS Cup is Oct. 26 at RFK Stadium in Washington. MLS All-Star Game is July 9 at Giants Stadium.

TV: ESPN, ESPN2 and Univision. Twenty-one games will be on ESPN2, seven regular-season games on ESPN, plus the All-Star Game and six playoff games. Univision will carry 24 games.