USSF to Fine Players Critical of Sampson
By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 27, 1998; Page D1
NANTES, France, June 26 U.S. soccer coach Steve Sampson announced today that Alexi Lalas and several other players on the national team would be fined undisclosed amounts for making statements during the World Cup that Sampson says brought disrepute to the U.S. Soccer Federation.
Sampson's announcement came hours after Lalas, Tab Ramos and Jeff Agoos stated they would not return to the U.S. team if Sampson received a new contract. The players' remarks were made this morning at the Nantes airport as they prepared to leave France the day after the U.S. team's 1-0 loss to Yugoslavia. All three played little or not at all in the U.S. team's three World Cup losses.
At the team's training base in Pornic, about two hours after the players' remarks, Sampson announced the USSF's fines of Lalas and several players Sampson declined to identify. Ramos and Eric Wynalda seem almost certain to be fined. The players would be notified in writing, Sampson said.
"There will be a fine imposed on those individuals who spoke out against the federation as a very clear message to the young players that this is not acceptable behavior," Sampson said. "These will be significant fines. ... They brought the federation in disrepute."
U.S. General Manager Tom King said players' comments to reporters during the World Cup still were being evaluated this morning. Lalas, Ramos and Wynalda openly questioned Sampson's strategy and decision-making. Agoos hadn't spoken out publicly until today. Preki Radosavljevic also questioned Sampson last week. Other players, including Roy Wegerle, made critical comments that weren't directed personally at Sampson.
Lalas provided the most inflammatory statements about Sampson, saying Sampson had a "weird definition of a master plan" and that disgruntled players "were ready to explode.
All of the reprimanded players will receive the $35,000 they are owed for being on the World Cup roster and playing in three matches. Sampson said the fines will paid out of the players' pockets. One source estimated yesterday the fines could range from $5,000 to $10,000.
Mark Levinstein, the lawyer for the U.S. team, said today he had not received word of the fines. By the terms of the players' collective bargaining agreement, a player is required to "comport and conduct himself, at all times, in a manner befitting player's position as a member of the team and spokesperson for the federation and sport of soccer."
When Lalas, Ramos and Agoos said during separate interviews at the airport they would not play again for Sampson, they were unaware fines had been levied.
"I would have to say I wouldn't continue with the national team," Ramos said. "I think I could contribute a lot, but certainly not under this coaching staff. I'll never do that again."
Said Agoos, who plays for Major League Soccer's D.C. United: "My issues had nothing to do with playing time. ... It comes down to being treated like a professional. It was Steve. We had no qualms with the other coaches. ... They helped us get this far; otherwise I would be in a mental institution."
Said Lalas: "The only thing I ever wanted was this team to do well, whether I was on the field or off the field or at home watching television. Any comments or frustration just come from seeing things that were wrong and trying to do something about them."
Sampson, whose contract expires after the World Cup, fielded questions about the latest round of comments today before announcing the earlier decision on the fines.
"It's unfortunate [Ramos] feels so free to voice his opinion about me when I have shown him so much respect and given him so much credit," Sampson said, alluding to Ramos's return from two knee surgeries in the last two years. "I do not understand where athletes get that kind of freedom. ... I don't think any level of unprofessionalism is acceptable. I can understand Jeff Agoos being frustrated he didn't get to play in this World Cup but he was selected and he should be honored to be considered one of the best 22 players the U.S. has."
Added Sampson: "Eighty-five percent of these players were top class and highly professional. Maybe there was a sense of frustration for some guys that their international career is coming to an end. Maybe they needed a scapegoat."
Sampson said he considered sending a number of players home after the first negative comments emerged from the loss to Germany June 15. Instead, Sampson said, he decided to handle the problem with an air-out team meeting before Sunday's 2-1 loss to Iran. Sampson said he thought the meeting was a success; the players agreed team matters should be kept within the team.
When Lalas made his remarks last Tuesday, Sampson said, he decided to implement the fines with approval from USSF President Alan Rothenberg.
Today, midfielder Joe-Max Moore, who started the last two matches, said he disagreed with his teammates' strong comments, explaining: "It looks like people are pointing fingers in every direction but to themselves. I personally don't want to be part of that. ... I don't think it benefits us publicly by going out and bashing people."
Notes: USSF vice president Sunil Gulati said MLS received "multiple seven-figure offers from European clubs" during the World Cup for D.C. United's Eddie Pope and that the league "would not do anything in terms of holding players back."
Pope, however, said today that he had no knowledge of any offers and wasn't considering leaving D.C. United at this time. Gulati said the league also received interest in Frankie Hejduk, Brian McBride and Brian Maisonneuve. . . . While Sampson reiterated his desire today to remain coach of the national team, he also said he would be interested in the USSF opening for a person to direct its 2010 initiative, designed to bring a World Cup title to the United States by 2010.
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