The latest flare-up involving Matthäus came last month, when he and Zambrano got in a pissing match in the German papers. Zambrano had taken issue with Matthäus's public disdain for the performance of Comas and some other Metros. "Octavio Zambrano offended me way too much," replied Matthäus. But last week, Matthäus finally agreed to come back. After the Tampa game, Zambrano was diplomatic about the famous libero's return. "Lothar Matthäus is not a guy who should be sitting on the bench," he said as one of his starting defenders, Daniel Hernandez, hobbled past with a season-ending knee injury. "And we have a hole to fill on defense."
But for now, the Matthäus flap has receded to the background. The team is clicking on all cylinders and had a 7-0-2 record in the nine games leading up to last weekend's all-star break. Meanwhile, Metros fans can scarcely believe their team's change in fortunes. "After so many years of dismal soccer, after so many years of being on the bottom," says Nathan Hillier of the Empire Supporters Club, "it's just an incredible feeling to be on top. All the people who have stuck by this team, now we have been rewarded. This is the season we'll all remember. This is the season we came out of the black hole."
Hard to believe, but true. For lapsed soccer fans in the area, there is, for the first time since the glory days of the Cosmos, a real reason to go out to Giants Stadium and cheer for the local team. Because the MetroStars, mirabile dictu, are finally playing creative, entertaining, competent soccer. And they're winning.