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Tampa Bay Mutiny 1998
12 W, 20 L
5th, Eastern Conference
John Kowalski, Tim Hankinson
Despite another strong showing in the 1997 season, the Tampa Bay Mutiny were among the worst defensive teams in the league, their 62 goals conceded tied with the Colorado Rapids for second-worst in MLS. The defense would not improve in 1998, but more deadly to Tampa Bay’s prospects was a much-diminished offense that finished tied with the fewest goals in the league.
The ’98 campaign got off to an inauspicious start as the Mutiny lost star midfielder Carlos Valderrama to their newly-minted Florida rivals, the Miami Fusion, and things went from bad to worse quickly. Tampa Bay came out of the blocks with a 1-5 record before trading 1996 Scoring Champion Roy Lassiter to D.C. United in exchange for Roy Wegerle. The Mutiny would lose their next three games after the trade, while Lassiter went on to score 18 goals.
Soon after arriving in Tampa Bay, Wegerle would depart along with teammate Frankie Hejduk to report for the US national team in preparation for their 1998 World Cup campaign in France. In their absence, the Mutiny went 3-5 including a shootout loss to the Fusion.
Upon the return of their World Cup tandem – Hejduk and Wegerle returned to practice on July 1 – Tampa Bay’s campaign stabilized, but it would take another two months before the team managed to win two games in a row.
But when it rains, it pours, and the Mutiny added to their first winning streak of the season by winning a third game, a 2-1 win against the MetroStars on September 13 that doubled as the final game at Houlihan’s Stadium. A club-record 27,957 fans were in attendance.
The momentum from their three-game streak faltered in their next match – a 3-0 loss to the New England Revolution – but Tampa Bay bounced back to finish their season with back-to-back wins. But it proved to be a case of too little, too late: The Mutiny finished a disappointing fifth in the Eastern Conference, one point behind the expansion Fusion for the East’s fourth and final playoff berth.