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In Houser, Tampa Bay has a talented rookie

Chris Houser is a rookie. He comes from Pierre, South Dakota, not exactly a major metropolis. He played for Division II Southern Connecticut State in New Haven.

And now he's in Major League Soccer defending some of the best players in the world. He has been matched up with Columbus' Brian McBride, Chicago's Frank Klopas and, Sunday, New York-New Jersey'sTab Ramos.

Houser, 6 feet 3 and 195 pounds, isn't intimidated by the challenges he has faced. He welcomes them.

"It's fun. I like that challenge," he said. "I have a good time going against the best. This isn't like in college, where you can totally shut a team down with one shot or something. I mean, you've got Tab Ramos, (Eduardo) Hurtado, those guys are amazing."

Though Houser is gaining experience facing quality players, he hasn't had much experience at winning. The Mutiny is 1-7. It's the first losing team Houser has played for since high school, but he said he is not giving up.

"This is my first year, and I haven't experienced winning yet," he said. "But I'm going to take it game by game. I'm going to keep my head up and keep working."

WORLD CUP SEND-OFF: The Mutiny will hold a bon-voyage breakfast from 9:30-11:30 a.m. Saturday for Roy Wegerle and Frankie Hejduk to commemorate their selection to the U.S. national team. It will be at the Mutiny ticket office and pro shop at 1408 N Westshore Blvd.

Wegerle and Hejduk will join the national team after playing Sunday at New England.

MEOLA PLAYER OF WEEK: After his brilliant seven-save performance against the Mutiny on Sunday, New York/New Jersey goalkeeper Tony Meola was named MLS player of the week. It was Meola's second shutout of the season and 16th in three seasons, a league record. Meola struggled with food poisoning before the match and had to have fluids injected intravenously.

Meola is the second player to face the Mutiny and win the award. Klopas scored twice April 4 to earn the honor.

Also, Columbus goalie Juergen Sommer was named April's player of the month. He was 4-1 with a 1.00 goals-against average.

MLS EXPANSION: San Diego was awarded the 1999 All-Star Gameand might be awarded a team in the near future. Commissioner Doug Logan said San Diego is high on the list if the league expands.

"We have always looked at Southern California, and by that I mean from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border," Logan said. "There are a lot of interesting things occurring in the San Diego area."

San Diego isn't the only city being considered. Logan said he has been impressed by television ratings in Houston, Seattle and Portland.

"They're high on our hit parade," he said. "We're looking at this daily. We're looking at the top 10 media markets."

MUTINY RANKINGS: The numbers continue to get more ugly for the Mutiny. Tampa Bay is last in scoring with a 0.625 goals-per-game average (five goals in eight games). Los Angeles is first with 2.71. The Mutiny has been outscored 15-5, worst in MLS.

Predictably, no Mutiny players are among the league leaders in goals or assists.