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Sampson Resigns as U.S. Coach

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 30, 1998; Page D1




The Sampson Era

 Hired: Aug. 2, 1995, after serving as interim head coach since April 14, 1995.
 Record: 26-22-14, only winning career record by a U.S. national team coach.

The Highlights

 Won U.S. Cup '95, including victories over Nigeria and Mexico.
 Reached 1995 Copa America semifinals, including victory over Argentina.
 Greatest comeback victory in U.S. team history: from 0-3 to defeat Saudi Arabia, 4-3, on Oct. 8, 1995.
 Reached 1998 Gold Cup final, including victory over Brazil.
 Qualified for 1998 World Cup, including first non-loss to Mexico in Mexico City.

The Lowlights

 2-6-6 record from Dec. 21, 1996 to Aug. 7, 1997.
 Team scored three goals in final six games as coach.
 0-3 record and 32nd-place finish in 1998 World Cup (losses of 2-0 to Germany, 2-1 to Iran, 1-0 to Yugoslavia).
TOULOUSE, France, June 29 — Steve Sampson resigned as coach of the U.S. national soccer team this morning after a turbulent World Cup in which the United States finished last among the 32 teams and Sampson's players bitterly blamed him for the performance.

Sampson's replacement likely will not be an American, according to U.S. Soccer Federation President Alan Rothenberg, who learned of Sampson's decision during a breakfast between the two in Paris and did not force Sampson to resign, according to Sampson and Rothenberg.

"It was completely my decision," said Sampson, who spent the day in Paris with his wife, Sheri, and 9-year-old son Brandon, one of their three children. "It was not even hinted at by Alan.

"It's the right thing to do. I've been with the national team for five years both as an assistant and head coach. It's time for me to spend time with my family, renew my relationship with my kids and wife. I think the time is also right for someone else to be in charge of the national team. I'm obviously deeply disappointed with the results here."

Rothenberg said the hunt for a new coach will begin immediately, with Bora Milutinovic and Carlos Alberto Parreira on his short list of candidates. "We are actually trying to set up meetings [with candidates] right now," Rothenberg said this afternoon.

In addition, Rothenberg said the USSF will not levy fines against U.S. World Cup team players who lashed out against Sampson, as Sampson vowed to do on Friday after the U.S. team's third and final 1998 World Cup loss. Rothenberg said the USSF decided against the fines because "we wanted this chapter closed."

The new chapter could include Milutinovic, who directed the U.S. team to the round of 16 at the 1994 World Cup, and did the same with Nigeria at this World Cup. He also has taken Mexico and Costa Rica to the round of 16.

Parreira led Brazil to the 1994 championship and turned down an offer to coach the U.S. team before Sampson was offered the job. He was fired as Saudi Arabia's coach just over a week ago after it lost its first two games, 1-0 to Denmark and 4-0 to France.

Carlos Queiroz, who recently left his position as a USSF advisor to coach in the United Arab Emirates, also is likely to be considered, as is Egil Olsen, who is leaving his job as Norway's coach.

Rothenberg said he hopes to begin interviewing candidates during his stay in France and secure a replacement before Aug. 23, when his term as USSF president ends.

"We would like the best possible coach," Rothenberg said from his hotel in Montpellier. "My guess is that would be an international rather than an American coach. . . . With Bora, you're automatically talking about a coach with a worldwide reputation, great success and knowledge of the United States. All of those things we are looking for."

Milutinovic, whose Nigerian team won its first-round group but was eliminated by Denmark on Sunday, could not be reached to comment. Rothenberg also said Bruce Arena, the coach of two-time Major League Soccer champion D.C. United and the 1996 U.S. Olympic team, will receive consideration, but Rothenberg seemed to dismiss that option by saying, "at this point, Steve is the most experienced international coach in the United States."

Rothenberg and Sampson said today's breakfast with Sampson in Paris was arranged mutually after the team's final World Cup match last Thursday against Yugoslavia.

Sampson acknowledged that his decision represented an about-face from his position on Friday when he stated: "At no point did I ever consider resigning. I worked too hard for this. I'm not going to let one or two individuals dictate my career."

Even today, Sampson said the criticism did not have an impact on his decision.

"Not at all," he said. "Let's be honest, I am disappointed with some of the comments from some of the players. But my focus has always been on the 16 or 17 players that have been true professionals. That was my focus in making this decision as well."

Rothenberg called Sampson a "very natural candidate" for a noncoaching position as director of the USSF's incipient Project 2010, a development program intended to bring a World Cup championship to the United States by 2010. Rothenberg said he intends to fill that job within 30 days of this World Cup's conclusion July 12. Sampson, who plans to fly home to Agoura Hills, Calif., with his family, said he and Rothenberg will meet again in Paris on the weekend of the final to discuss that job.

Sampson, who said he has received "hints" of other coaching offers, posted a 26-22-14 record in three years as the U.S. coach, including several splendid highlights such as February's 1-0 victory over Brazil. But the United States lost all three of its first-round matches in France — 2-0 to Germany on June 15, 2-1 to Iran on June 21 and 1-0 to Yugoslavia last Thursday. Veterans Tab Ramos and Alexi Lalas vehemently blamed Sampson for the team's performance. Several other players, including Eric Wynalda and Jeff Agoos, offered stinging criticisms.

The deterioration of Sampson's relationship with certain players began when he released two-time World Cup veteran John Harkes in April. Sampson said he had no regrets about any tactical or other decisions made before or during the World Cup, including the decision to include players on the roster who eventually turned against him.

This was the U.S. team's third straight World Cup appearance after a 40-year absence, but Lalas said just getting there is no longer enough.

"The entire team, we're responsible for the performance we had in France, and I hope we can look at the experience and we can learn from our mistakes," Lalas told the Associated Press. "But I think it's insulting to the American fans to say, 'We put on a show, we worked hard and we're getting better as a soccer-playing nation.'

"There's nothing wrong with saying we failed. If we're saying we want to be viewed as a progressive soccer-playing nation, we want to be viewed along with the best teams, we have to be honest — both when we succeed and when we fail. If we're just going to continue saying, 'Rah, rah for the red-white-and-blue, and we played well and we showed things,' we might as well have orange peels at halftime and it'll be a youth league."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post

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