U.S. Players Irked With Lineup, Changes Planned
By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 17, 1998; Page C1
Sampson told two-time World Cup veteran Tab Ramos he would start in Sunday's match against Iran in Lyon and later hinted that he might make two other changes.
Sampson indicated that wide midfielder Frankie Hejduk and forward Roy Wegerle also might start, replacing Mike Burns and Eric Wynalda a move that would likely not sit well with the two-time World Cup performer Wynalda or his longtime friend Ramos, who said today: "Eric Wynalda needs to be on the field."
Disappointed by Monday's 2-0 loss to Germany in the World Cup opener for both teams, several U.S. players made critical comments about a lineup that used eight players making their World Cup debuts. The United States gave up a goal nine minutes into the match and played, by all accounts, a poor first half and a more lively second half.
Players also voiced skepticism about the team's recently installed three-defender, six-midfielder, one-forward alignment. In the team's first match using that formation against Austria April 22, the U.S. won, 3-0. In the four matches since, the U.S. team has scored two goals. However, a goal hadn't been scored against the formation until Monday night.
Despite the obvious discontent stemming from the sound defeat, players stated that preserving team spirit was a priority as the U.S. team prepares for its final two first-round matches. The United States probably needs a victory and a tie from its Sunday match against Iran and its June 25 match against Yugoslavia to advance to the second round. A pair of victories might be necessary.
"I've already spoken to Tab about this: I think it's very important to stay positive right now," Wynalda said this afternoon. "But we went out [against Germany] with the wrong attitude. We were very timid. That's to be expected from guys who haven't been there before. That's all that needs to be said. ... The guys that know what to do and know what to expect weren't on the field last night."
On the bench was Ramos, who replaced Chad Deering late in the match, midfielder Joe-Max Moore and defenders Alexi Lalas and Marcelo Balboa. Moore and Lalas played in the '94 World Cup and Balboa played in 1990 and 1994. At home in Washington was John Harkes, the two-time World Cup member cut in April.
"It's hard to believe sometimes when you look down the bench and see Alexi Lalas, Marcelo Balboa, Jeff Agoos who's played just about every qualifying game," Ramos said. "But the bottom line is, the coach makes the decisions. ... Obviously, you don't have to agree, and I don't. But I respect the fact he puts in the guys he thinks will win the game."
Sampson said later during a conference call from the team's training site near Lyon that "I don't know if it was necessarily a lack of World Cup experience or the allowing of an early goal that caused us to play what you call timid play. I think it's important against Iran to inject some players who are a little more offensive and a little more experienced, and I think it's important to show the physical side of our game."
Sampson also said he wanted players on the bench craving playing time but, he acknowledged, players' feelings along those lines were "difficult to manage."
Sampson said he admonished Ramos for telling reporters he received word he would start. "I did discuss [with Ramos] that it's my prerogative to announce who does start and who doesn't start. I think he got caught up in the moment. ... We discussed it and it's been resolved."
It's unclear whom Ramos would replace. Should Sampson pair him up with Claudio Reyna in central midfield, Ernie Stewart would go to the bench. Should Sampson choose to play Ramos at defensive midfield, Deering would likely not start.
After Monday's match, Sampson said Wynalda lacked the energy that Wegerle displayed at the forward position and said today that "I would hope the next chance he gets, he would free himself from markers a little more. I think Roy Wegerle came in the game with more energy that we need."
Ramos, however, suggested that the forward position in this 3-6-1 formation is burdened with too many responsibilities. Most formations call for two forwards and some use three. Wegerle seemed to agree with Ramos. "The 3-6-1 for forwards is a nightmare," Wegerle said recently. "You don't have a partner to feed off of."
Said Ramos: "If you watch the game, 15 minutes into the game, Eric was tired. that's partly because, obviously, he's not as fit as he wants to be," Ramos said, referring to Wynalda's recovery from mid-April arthroscopic knee surgery. "But the other part of it is because he's chasing everybody. There need to be a couple more players taking people on. ... I believe personally the best way to play soccer is the 4-4-2, but every coach has a different book."
Sampson seems certain to stick with the 3-6-1 formation, which he says can create offense if players strive to attack. In the team's three friendly matches prior to this one albeit against much lesser competition: Kuwait, Macedonia and Scotland the team created numerous scoring chances despite failing to capitalize. And Hejduk, who played nearly the entire match against Austria but missed the next three games because of injury, seems to be a key to bringing life to the formation.
Certainly Sampson and his players are in agreement on at least one issue: the need for more aggression, particularly early in Sunday's match.
"If we are as timid as we were in the first half [Monday], we don't have a chance to win," Ramos said. "I'll be honest with you, if we don't play a lot better against Iran, we won't beat Iran."
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