Coach Adds Forward to Punchless Attack
By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 20, 1998; Page E1
SAINT-JEAN D'ARDIERES, June 19 A month ago, U.S. Coach Steve Sampson said his new formation had to "fail miserably" in order to give it up. Although refusing to say the formation failed, Sampson has decided to abandon it for a more attack-oriented approach in Sunday's World Cup match against Iran, forward Roy Wegerle said today.
The change will put two forwards on the field instead of only one in hopes of creating more goal-scoring opportunities.
While alignments in a fluid game such as soccer are less significant than in more structured games such as U.S. football, the fact Sampson is willing to relinquish a formation in which he so strongly believed demonstrates particularly to his players that he "will do anything for victory," as he said today.
It may also suggest that he succumbed to pressure from U.S. players who grumbled about the effectiveness of the old formation, which has produced just two U.S. goals in the past four significant matches for the United States.
Both Iran and the United States must win Sunday in order to have a realistic chance of advancing to the second round.
"I think he heard a little mumbling about it not being offensive enough ... from different people," Wegerle said. "Maybe that's why he's decided to do that. Personally, I think it's a great move, going with two forwards."
The old formation employed three defenders, six midfielders and just one forward and is known as the 3-6-1. According to Wegerle, the U.S. team will play a 3-5-2 Sunday. Although the two formations are similar, very different personnel could see playing time.
Tab Ramos might start at attacking midfielder in place of Claudio Reyna, who might move to one of the two defensive midfielder spots in place of Chad Deering. Competing for the two forward spots are Eric Wynalda, who started in Monday's loss to Germany, Wegerle and Brian McBride. Ernie Stewart's attacking midfielder role disappears in the new formation. In a move unrelated to the formation change, Frankie Hejduk will start for Mike Burns.
Sampson has declined throughout the World Cup to discuss his specific strategy and has maintained that his lineup and approach for Sunday's game has not been decided.
He did say during his meeting with reporters today: "It's always been my position to involve players in the decision-making process not that they have anything to do with the final say. ... It would be foolish not to draw on the experience of many of our players."
After the U.S. team's 2-0 loss to Germany, several veteran players took issue with the alignment. Midfielder Ramos attributed the ineffectiveness of Wynalda whom Sampson criticized after the match partly to the fact he had no help near the goal. Wynalda did not take a single shot against Germany, and said afterward he had never before failed to take a shot in 101 international matches.
Wegerle has maintained for weeks that the 3-6-1 was a nightmare for the forwards. Others, however, such as defender Thomas Dooley and midfielder Cobi Jones, said they thought the 3-6-1 was just fine and should not necessarily be discarded.
Jones and Wegerle agreed that the 3-5-2 formation requires very little adaptation for the team and is more comfortable for the forwards, who are accustomed to playing with a partner.
"It's not something that's going to disrupt the team by any means," Wegerle said. "It's a very simple adjustment."
Sampson unveiled the 3-6-1 alignment on April 22 for a match against Austria. The United States won, 3-0, ending a four-match winless streak and giving Sampson hope that he had found part of the key for success in the World Cup.
Some players remained unconvinced: "It was just one game. ... Let's be honest, Austria isn't Germany," said defender Alexi Lalas, who essentially lost his starting job with the adoption of the 3-6-1. "We were very good on that day."
Since the Austria match, the United States defeated Kuwait, 2-0, and played to scoreless ties with Scotland and Macedonia in international friendlies. All of the results, perhaps excepting the Kuwait score, were regarded as disappointing given the caliber of competition. Only Scotland qualified for the World Cup finals.
No one questioned the 3-6-1 formation's effectiveness defensively. Sampson points out without much dispute that Germany's two goals were not because of flaws in the formation. On the first goal, Germany scored on a pair of headers off a corner kick. On the second, the United States got caught in an attacking posture and Juergen Klinsmann took advantage of it.
Although disappointed in the Germany result, the U.S. players knew before the match that even a tie would be difficult to achieve. Against Iran, however, the United States will not consider anything but a victory an acceptable result.
"We can't afford a tie," Hejduk said. "We have to throw as many people as we can forward. ... We have to score goals."
U.S. Note: Stewart has been bothered by a strained right knee ligaments but he returned to practice today. Sampson said Stewart is likely to be ready to play Sunday.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company