U.S. Ends Up With Nothing
By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 26, 1998; Page D1
NANTES, France, June 25 The final World Cup tally for the U.S. national soccer team after its tournament-ending 1-0 loss to Yugoslavia tonight: three losses, one goal scored, no second-round match.
Tonight's uninspiring game at La Beaujoire stadium concluded a couple of tumultuous weeks for the U.S. team, which had been shaken by several players' public criticisms of Coach Steve Sampson, mass lineup changes and, of course, disappointing defeats.
"I think if we would state everything stinks, we're unhappy, disappointed, we're going home those are just stating the facts," forward Eric Wynalda said. "Everybody knows this team is capable of much more. We deserve to be disappointed. This was terrible."
The U.S. team will rank no higher than 30th among 32 first-round teams. Only Japan, Jamaica and Tunisia, all with one match remaining, also have failed to win or tie.
"The whole thing was a shambles," midfielder Tab Ramos said.
With a few exceptions, players seemed careful not to voice overly negative opinions. U.S. Soccer Federation President Alan Rothenberg who also runs Major League Soccer, a league in which 16 of the 22 national team members play advised players during a pregame meeting not to make statements they would regret.
Despite the United States's performance, Sampson and Rothenberg said the team's play demonstrated progress from the 1994 World Cup even though the '94 team advanced to the second round and this team was eliminated from advancing after its first two losses, 2-0 to Germany and 2-1 to Iran. Rothenberg also stated that he would not decide whether to rehire Sampson until after the July 12 World Cup final.
"At the end of the day in athletic competition, it's the results. . . . Based on that, we are clearly disappointed with this 1998 World Cup," Rothenberg said. " . . . But I think you have to say we've come a long, long way."
Sampson blamed the team's failure to win mostly on the inability to convert scoring opportunities. Asked what he learned during this World Cup, Sampson said: "The first half against Germany will probably be the greatest learning experience for us. We also learned how important it is to be together on and off the field . . . and for us to finish our chances. Goal-scoring opportunities are not easily created in a World Cup."
In tonight's match, the United States produced more first-half chances than Yugoslavia, which scored on a header by Slobodan Komljenovic just four minutes into the game. Komljenovic knocked in a rebound from goalie Brad Friedel, who extended himself to block a direct kick and couldn't recover in time to challenge.
Yugoslavia qualified as the second seed in Group F and will face Netherlands in the round of 16. Top-seeded Germany will play Mexico.
Other than a rapid-fire period midway through the first half, the United States did not muster much of an attack. Sampson returned to the three-defender, six-midfielder, one-forward alignment he used during its first match. In the second, Sampson used five new starters and a different formation. Tonight, Sampson used four starters he didn't use against Iran.
Sampson inserted substitutes Preki Radosavljevic, Wynalda and Marcelo Balboa who hadn't played in the tournament late in the match. The only players who didn't see any playing time were Alexi Lalas, who made critical comments about Sampson earlier this week, Jeff Agoos of D.C. United and Juergen Sommer.
"There's a lot of negative stuff I could say," said Agoos, who burned his uniform after being among the last cuts for the 1994 World Cup team. "All I'm going to say now is I deserved better than this."
Lalas took another shot at Sampson, saying at the World Cup one hoped to take home a scrapbook and respect. Lalas said he believed he had both the scrapbook and the respect but that "Steve has to settle for his scrapbook."
Several players said they expected Sampson to be fired.
"Results are the whole key," goalkeeper Kasey Keller said. "If we didn't qualify for the World Cup, he wouldn't be in the job right now. If you qualify and don't do well, usually it doesn't happen for you. If you don't get results, you don't have a job."
Said Joe-Max Moore, who started the last two matches: "I think the federation probably was looking for more at the World Cup. If you don't get results, ultimately, you lose your job. It's the same for players."
Whether one viewed the results as progress or regression, the end was the same: Most U.S. players will be home by Saturday, when the second round gets underway.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company