Sampson, on Defensive, Seeks More Respect
By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 25, 1998; Page E1
The U.S. team lost its first two matches against Germany and Iran and will not advance to the round of 16, jeopardizing the coach's chances of having his contract renewed. Sampson's contract expires after the World Cup.
"I am very proud of the work I have done to this date," Sampson said after a morning workout at La Beaujoire stadium. "If one of those shots went off the crossbar into the net [in a 2-1 loss against Iran] we wouldn't be talking about these things now."
Later, at the team's beachfront resort in Pornic, Sampson expressed anger at a published report in Wednesday's Washington Post that characterized a number of players on the team as being dissatisfied with his coaching. The story included critical comments about Sampson from veteran U.S. defender Alexi Lalas, who didn't play in either of the team's first two matches.
Sampson called the story one-sided and said "to respond to Alexi Lalas's comments would take the focus off the game for Yugoslavia. Right now, the focus is on preparing for Yugoslavia."
Sampson did say, however, that "People came here to play, they didn't come here to sit on the bench. It's normal for players who don't see playing time to voice frustration."
Lalas told The Post on Wednesday that players were displeased with many of Sampson's coaching decisions: "Everybody's ready to explode. You can get ready for it."
Many U.S. players will fly home Friday after the team's final match, Thursday against Yugoslavia.
Sampson, who was not available to comment for The Post's Wednesday story, beseeched his players at today's interview session to treat him with the respect he said he has shown them. In the last couple of weeks, several players have questioned Sampson's decisions publicly.
"Players should be mature and professional," Sampson said. "They have a choice about whether to be mature and professional or not. I've always been very professional with them and I will continue to be. I will never criticize my players through the press. ... I would hope they would do the same."
Despite Sampson's contention, he occasionally has made critical comments about his players to reporters. After the game against Germany, Sampson said he replaced Wynalda with Roy Wegerle because Wynalda did not provide enough second effort on defense or energy on offense.
Sampson also said he did not direct his assistants to threaten any players with being sent home last week. A source in Wednesday's story said assistant coaches told four players Wynalda, Lalas, Marcelo Balboa and Ernie Stewart that their attitudes could jeopardize their tenure with the U.S. team.
Despite Sampson's appeals to his players, another player today expressed dissatisfaction.
Midfielder Preki Radosavljevic, a Yugoslavia native who turned 35 today, said he desperately wanted to start against his home nation in Thursday's match but it "doesn't look like it's going to happen."
Said Radosavljevic: "It seems like everybody has been given a shot but myself. ... I've been overlooked every day and for every game."
Radosavljevic said he felt fit enough to play 90 minutes and that Sampson "was trying to find a reason not to play me."
Sampson said he would start his 11 best players against Yugoslavia, with the exception of goalkeeper Kasey Keller. Brad Friedel will start in goal instead. Sampson added that Radosavljevic might start.
Forward Roy Wegerle, who started in place of Wynalda on Sunday, suggested his teammates follow Sampson's instructions and "be professional."
"No one's at fault," Wegerle said about the team's World Cup performance. "We all are to blame. You can't point the finger at anyone individually. ... We are all in this together."
Sampson, who owns the best record of any coach in U.S. national team history, said it wouldn't be fair to fire him on the basis of this World Cup. He said the U.S. team demonstrated progress, playing well in three out of four halves of the two losses. He also cited the difficulty of the competition in Group F. U.S. Soccer Federation President Alan Rothenberg said he would decide Sampson's future only after the Yugoslavia match.
"We lost two games in the World Cup and people want to know why," Sampson said. "To me, it comes down to execution in front of the goal. ... Every coach brings his own slant to the team. I believe I've brought a very good slant to this team."
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