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Sophomore slump sets MLS back

Major League Soccer finished its first season a year ago to rave reviews. It hit a few bumps during its second season.

The league completed its season Sunday when D.C. United defeated the Colorado Rapids 2-1 for its second championship.

MLS faced declining attendance and television ratings, a pending lawsuit from its players and the possibility of the U.S. national team not qualifying for the World Cup.

"We are where any consumer business is in its second year of operation," commissioner Doug Logan said. "There is no such thing as a straight upward line."

Average attendance dropped to 14,616 from 17,416. ESPN ratings going into the last month, the most current numbers available, were at 0.5, down from 0.55 last year. Games on ESPN2 drew an 0.27 rating compared with 0.35.

The league did sign a new television contract with Walt Disney Co.'s ABC, ESPN and ESPN2.

Visibility was not helped by an apparent snub of the league's champion by the White House.

"I don't know what the criteria is for being invited to the White House," D.C. United goalkeeper Scott Garlick said. "We're in the nation's capital, representing the nation's capital. We deserve it."

COLLEGES: The Florida State men's golf team was in sixth at 14-over-par 590 and Florida tied for eighth at 16-over 592 after two rounds of the Country Club of Louisiana Intercollegiate. FSU's George McNeill was tied for 10th at 1-over 145 and Florida's Josh McCumber tied for 14th at 2-over 146. Georgia led at 571. Joey Kopacz and Jon Akin scored as host Saint Leo defeated Gardner-Webb (N.C.) University 2-0 in men's soccer. Bob Weltlich, who coached at Mississippi, Texas and Florida International, was hired as South Alabama's men's basketball coach, ending the school's three-week search. North Carolina F Antawn Jamison heads the 1997-98 All-ACC preseason squad. He joins teammate Vince Carter, Duke's Trajan Langdon, Georgia Tech's Matt Harpring and Clemson's Greg Buckner.

OLYMPICS: U.S. committee president Bill Hybl said Tampa, bidding for the 2012 Summer Games, "has an advantage, just as Athens is going to use in 2004 and Barcelona used in 1992 _ bringing in ships for housing for sponsors and so on. It can add (hotel) rooms overnight." He said 50,000 rooms is the minimum for a bid to be considered. Hillsborough and Pinellas counties have about 35,000. "Tampa is an enthusiastic group, and (former USOC vice president) George Steinbrenner is at the forefront," Hybl said. "He understands the Olympic movement. I think it'll be a formidable bid." The USOC begins evaluating bids by cities in April. Downhill champion Tommy Moe, still recovering from 1995 knee surgery, called the embattled course in Japan where he will defend his title first class. "It's nice course, with lots of rolling jumps," he said. The course for the Nagano Games begins at about 5,500 feet. FIS, the international ski federation, has battled with Nagano organizers to raise the starting line by 500 feet. U.S. figure skating star Todd Eldredge said his separated right shoulder felt better, but he remained cautious about competing in a pre-Olympic event in Paris next month. IOC official Dr. Jacques Rogge gave Sydney 2000 organizers a clean bill of health despite a recent toxic chemical scare at the Games' Homebush site. Gold medal sprinter Donovan Bailey faces motor vehicle charges in Ontario after he crashed a Mercedes-Benz he won in the 1995 World Championships.

TENNIS: Jim Courier and Todd Martin lost in the first round of the Paris Open, Courier to Bohdan Uhlirach and Martin to Jan Siemerink. Vincent Spadea, the lone American in the field, beat Eduardo Rincon to advance to the second round of the Colombian Open clay-court tournament. Karina Hasbudova defeated Magdalena Maleeva in the Kremlin Cup in Moscow. Sandrine Testud and Yelena Makarova also advanced.

BOXING: Cory Spinks, 19, son of Leon Spinks and nephew of Michael Spinks, debuts Nov. 21 in Kansas City, Mo., in a four-round fight in the 140-pound division.

BOWLING: Tom Baker was 6-2 in the opening round of match play to take a 198-pin lead over Walter Ray Williams Jr. in the PBA Ebonite Challenge in Indianapolis.

HORSE RACING: Yonkers Raceway, citing lack of funds, canceled the Clare Pace and William Haughton Memorial Pace. Hall of Fame trainer William James "Buddy" Hirsch died Saturday after a long illness. He was 88.

WHITBREAD YACHTS: The Dutch BrunelSunergy arrived in Cape Town, 1,200 miles and six days behind the winner of the Whitbread Round the World race's first leg.

ET CETERA: Phil Whitten, editor of Swimming World, asked United States Swimming to take a stand against suspected use of performance-enhancing drugs by Chinese women. Women's groups accused Nike of failing to provide the same opportunities it espouses in its U.S. ads to women in its Asian factories. The Goodwill Games alliance between the United States and Russia is over. Games president Mike Plant said the next games in 2002 probably will be in Asia or Oceania.

_ Staff writer Bruce Lowitt, Times wires