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First XI: Heat-induced memories

you can decide) that I long for ...

11. Carlos Valderrama. There was nothing like watching "El Pibe" run about 10 steps in the course of an MLS match (none at full speed), yet still deliver more great passes than any player on the field. How'd he do it? From what I could tell, it had everything to do with Valderrama's ability to read the game, find the right spots to receive passes and know in his brain where he'd play the next pass before he ever received the ball. Sounds so simple, and I remember some MLS players complaining to me about his work rate, but if you could teach a player to be as effective as Valderrama was at his game, you'd see a lot of players doing the same thing. Fact is, you don't see any Valderramas in MLS anymore and that's because what he did was extremely difficult.

10. MLS ExtraTime. You know you miss it too, that one-hour highlight and analysis show that used to air in the wee hours, always on a different night, as I recall. Roy Wegerle always brought passion to the airwaves and was always willing to stick his neck on the line when it came to his analysis and Rob Stone, let's just say he was Ryan Seacrest before any of us knew Ryan Seacrest. And, of course, there was that little gray-haired guy giving all the news and notes, and looking very at home in front of the camera. Who was that guy and what ever happened to him?

9. The original logos. The Bat. The Scorpion. The Taxi. The Fire-Breathing Horse. I miss them all, along with colors like chlorophyll green and pacific teal. Honestly, I cannot wait until MLS has been around long enough that they hold Turn Back the Clock nights. I've got a '97 MetroStars shirt, emblazoned on the back with the name "Branco," all ready to go. I've also got a few 1996 style baseball hats to wear.

8. The Florida teams. Yeah, I used to rip on the Mutiny and the Fusion, but now, especially as temps inch toward 100 here in Jersey, I miss those afternoon games in Florida, when the action used to hit the wall, oh, around minute 15. I also greatly miss Lockhart Stadium, the only stadium in MLS history that could make 5,000 fans look good.

7. Spartan Stadium. I also miss the pinball action at Spartan. As much as I always missed action along the near sideline, which was invisible due to the concrete walls that engulfed the field, I find myself missing the rock-'em, sock-'em games in San Jose. My personal favorite was a 5-5 tie between the Quakes and the MetroStars in 2004. Go watch that highlight reel some day.

6. Tony Meola. My sons are going to Meola's camp here in a few weeks and it still doesn't seem right that we've begun an MLS season without having Tony in the net somewhere. I miss the ponytail from the old days, that sad look he always had when someone scored on him, those big hands snaring a cross off a striker's head, that easy stroke he always had on goal kicks, and his ability to rise to the occasion in big games. Meola's 2000 season in K.C. will probably never be outdone as the greatest season for a goalkeeper in MLS history.

5. Andres Cantor. For some reason I will never forget the sound of Cantor calling a MetroStars goal back in 1996, when he somehow made A.J. Wood a 7-syllable name. How can we get this guy back on the mic in MLS? He was even good in English during the Olympics. I think everyone in and around MLS has to miss this guy.

4. Chicago's Polish flavor. I know it's impossible to repeat the past, but that first year in Chicago (1998), when the Fire had Piotr Nowak, Roman Kosecki and Jerzy Podbrozny, and all those Polish fans at every match, it was hard to beat the atmosphere. Everyone, for sure, remembers Nowak, but I've had a former coach in MLS tell me on many occasions that it was Kosecki and Podbrozny who made the original Fire so hard to beat. Again, highlights can tell the story. Kosecki had some amazing goals and Podbrozny's timing on balls through the midfield was a thing of beauty to watch. Oh yeah, I know he's not Polish, but was there ever a better passing defender than Lubos Kubik?

3. The Magic Triangle. Marco Etcheverry, Jaime Moreno and Raul Diaz Arce formed the Magic Triangle in 1996 and when D.C. United were on their game, their possession and attack was in a class by itself in MLS. Of course, I must add that while Diaz Arce was not exactly "magic" with the ball, he was quite good in the air and always the fittest guy on the field. He also filled many a seat at RFK Stadium. And, there was no better call in MLS than Cantor calling out "Gooooooooooooooooooooool! Rauuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuul! Raul Ignacio Diaz Arce!"

2. Big-name rumors. Roberto Baggio to the MetroStars. George Weah to the MetroStars. Steve McManaman to the MetroStars. Gazza to anywhere. What ever happened to all those rumors of big-name players coming to MLS for a "big American payday?" Seems now, every time we get a big name rumored to be coming to MLS (Beckham), it actually happens! I think those Euro agents need to get back to work.

1. Fixing controversies. No, not the types of fixing controversies they had in Italy. I'm talking about the "league favors such-and-such team" controversies. Man, those were the good old days, when a soccer fan in the USA felt they could scream "fix!" every time MLS allocated a player to a team.

Jeff Bradley is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Send your comments and complaints (200 words or less, please) to Jeff at jbradleyespn2003@yahoo.com and he promises to read (but not respond to) all of them. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or MLSnet.com.