Sampson Not Upset About Players' Complaints
By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 18, 1998; Page B8
SAINT-JEAN D'ARDIERES, June 17 A day after his players criticized his personnel and strategy decisions, U.S. national team Coach Steve Sampson said he didn't mind the complaints and said, in the long run, their dissatisfaction could prove helpful to the team.
"I think they were very angry and that's okay," Sampson said today. "It's more important how they play than what they say to journalists. At this point, even though they talk, it's important to stay upbeat and respectful."
On Tuesday, several players questioned Sampson's decision to rely heavily on eight players without World Cup experience in the team's 2-0 loss to Germany on Monday. A few players also questioned the effectiveness of the formation Sampson recently installed with three defenders, six midfielders and one forward. World Cup veterans Tab Ramos and Eric Wynalda were the most outspoken.
"Definitely anger and disappointment needs to be managed," Sampson said. "I think this is a much more mature [American] team than four or eight years ago. I think we all understand everyone needs to vent in their own way. It has to be done in the proper way. If it does become cancerous within the team, it has to be shut off."
Sampson said he has always advocated including strong personalities on his teams even though they can be "discipline problems."
"I'm sure Frankie Hejduk and Eric Wynalda were not model citizens growing up," Sampson said, referring to the free-spirited Hejduk and the opinionated Wynalda. "But they bring that energy and excitement" to the field.
Sampson clearly does not apply this philosophy in all cases , though. In April, Sampson cut two-time World Cup midfielder John Harkes, who was then team captain, for reasons that included a lack of discipline and leadership.
In other news, Sampson raised the possibility that he might abandon or adapt his 3-6-1 formation to provide for more scoring opportunities in Sunday's match against Iran in Lyon, France. "We're going to consider everything," he said.
Sampson could drop a midfielder and add a second forward, which would suit Ramos who complained Tuesday that the lone forward in the 3-6-1 was overburdened. Ramos said he preferred the 4-4-2. In any event, Sampson said changing the system wouldn't hold the key to victory Sunday.
"Attitudes, at the very least, must change," Sampson said. "No matter which system we go with, the attitude must be to advance and go forward."
Though Sampson hasn't formally announced his starting lineup, he told Ramos on Tuesday that he would start (then reprimanded Ramos for leaking the information to reporters). Sampson also strongly indicated he would start Hejduk at wide midfield in place of Mike Burns. Another possible change would be putting Roy Wegerle into the lineup either alongside Wynalda or in place of him.
Ernie Stewart, who started at midfield Monday, didn't train today because of a bruised knee. That suggests that Ramos could move into his position in central midfield.
The U.S. team still carried the residual effects of its post-defeat funk during this morning's training session, the first since the match. Ramos, however, said the players' spirits improved by the end of the workout. The defeat to Germany proved demoralizing because the U.S. team never challenged and, early in the match, looked downright outclassed.
"This is a tough day for us," Ramos said. "It's the first day of practice together again. Some players are down we all are down about the game on Monday. But really, it's time to forget about that game. . . . By the end of practice, I sensed that people were starting to forget. I think by tomorrow, we're are going to be fully ready to concentrate on the next task."
Both Iran and the United States lost their first-round opening matches, with Iran falling to Yugoslavia by a 1-0 margin on Sunday. Both need a victory to maintain a realistic chance of moving onto the second round.
Said Ramos: "We need to use the way we played against Germany as motivation to do better our best."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company