Sampson Might Be History
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 22, 1998; Page D9
LYON, France, June 21 With the U.S. national soccer team eliminated from advancing in the 1998 World Cup, Coach Steve Sampson tonight finds himself in the same precarious situation in which he was hired three years ago limbo.
U.S. Soccer Federation President Alan Rothenberg said he will assess Sampson's job performance following the tournament which will end for the Americans Thursday after their game against Yugoslavia in Lens and that he will make a decision whether to retain Sampson by the end of August, when Rothenberg's eight-year tenure as USSF chief ends.
Sampson, whose 26-21-14 record is the best in U.S. history, is under contract through December.
"When the tournament is over, we will sit down and talk about it," Rothenberg said. "But I can't fault anything Steve or the players did tonight. It breaks my heart. We deserved better."
Said Sampson: "We have one more game to play. I'm not thinking about my future. I feel very comfortable in what I have done and I am proud of what I have done. If the federation doesn't want me, I'm sure some other organization will want me. I think I've gained an awful lot of experience that could be useful to someone, if not the U.S. Soccer Federation.
"I think the opportunity to stay is there, but those are decisions I don't make and one absolutely out of my control."
This won't be the first time Sampson must wait for a decision about his coaching future.
In April 1995, when Bora Milutinovic was fired by Rothenberg after guiding the U.S. team to the second round of the 1994 World Cup, Sampson was elevated from assistant to interim coach essentially a caretaker until the USSF found an experienced foreign candidate.
But as the search dragged on, Sampson led the team to the U.S. Cup title and a startling fourth-place finish highlighted by a 3-0 upset of Argentina in the Copa America, the prestigious South American championships.
Finally, Rothenberg decided to retain Sampson, who over the next two years became the first U.S.-born coach to guide the team to a World Cup berth through the regional qualifying tournament.
But even that didn't guarantee Sampson the U.S. job in France. After the Americans clinched a spot last November, Rothenberg spent several weeks weighing his options. Once again, he decided to stick with Sampson.
However, it's common for coaches to move on to other jobs after the World Cup, regardless of a team's performance. Of the 18 teams that competed in both the 1994 and '98 tournaments, only four retained their coaches: Germany's Berti Vogts, Spain's Javier Clemente, Norway's Egil Olsen and Romania's Anghel Iordanescu.
Carlos Alberto Parreira walked away from Brazil's squad after winning the '94 title, and coached Saudi Arabia this year until getting fired Saturday following two losses. Today South Korea fired its coach, Cha Bum Kun, whose team was outscored 8-1 in two defeats.
The U.S. team's early elimination certainly won't help Sampson's cause. The U.S. soccer community had hoped for a place in the round of 16 to continue the national team's progress on the world stage. In addition, the USSF last month announced a bold initiative that would culminate in a World Cup title in 2010. But this year's disappointing results will keep those plans on hold for at least four more years.
Meanwhile, Sampson will sit and wait for a decision.
"We have said all along that we're not going to terminate anything or anyone until after the World Cup," said Hank Steinbrecher, the USSF's secretary general. "I don't know if Steve could have done anything different than he did tonight. He did his job."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company