To Darryl Gee, Team America is worth trying out for, maybe, after his California vacation. To Tony Crescitelli, Team America is worth risking his job.
That divergence of opinion is representative of the reaction of players, coaches and league officials to the idea of a national team-in-training. Some call it a gimmick, others call it the savior of pro soccer in this country, but all feel it is long overdue.
"I think the idea of a Team America is a positive step and very good for the game," said John Best, Seattle Sounders general manager, who had four players drafted by the team. "I don't see this as a gimmick at all. I see it targeted towards greatly increasing the appeal of the game in this country. If America is ever to have World Cup potential, this is the way to do it."
The team, which will be based in Washington, D.C., is scheduled to begin training in Tampa Feb. 7 and will play a 30-game schedule in the North American Soccer League, as well as 10 to 20 international exhibitions. All U.S. citizens who have not played internationally for another country are eligible for the team, and so far 39 players have been selected, mostly from NASL clubs.
But many players have expressed reservations about trying out for the team. Training camp, which was to have opened Feb. 1, was pushed back a week to sort out player contracts and team compensation. Two draftees, Seattle defenders Benny Dargle and Jeff Stock, have declined to try out for the team, citing family reasons.
Others, including New York Cosmos midfielder Ricky Davis, possibly this country's top player, have been vocal in their opposition to the idea.
"Ricky has the same misgivings and fears as all the other players," said Gee, a defender for the Cosmos and a graduate of Oakland Mills High School in Columbia, Md. "Suppose you go down there and try out for the team. A lot of teams may take that as insult.
"Also, suppose you leave to join Team America. Your original team will get someone to play your position, probably an American, who will do just about as well as you. But they will play him about half as much. If I get cut from Team America, you think my orginal team will take me back?"
The United States Soccer Federation, which is sponsoring the team with the NASL, moved to calm players' fears by signing Alkis Panagoulias this week as head coach. Panagoulias, who served as the Greek national coach from 1973-81, will replace Manfred Schellscheidt, interim coach, immediately. But some players still prefer to wait and see how the first week of training camp goes before making a decision.
"I feel very grateful and honored that I was drafted," said Gee. "But for now I'm just going to enjoy my vacation. I'll probably end up going down there to try out, though."
"The only players who have made up their minds are the ones who don't know all the issues," said Cosmos reserve goalie David Brcic.
Legal complications have kept some players from announcing a decision. Seattle goalkeeper Paul Hammond said he is awaiting contract negotiations with the Sounders, and 11 players are playing with their NASL clubs in the Major Indoor Soccer League.
New York Arrows midfielder Gary Etherington, the only active non-NASL player picked, will not be released by his team until the MISL announces a policy on player compensation. "We're not going to be rebels," said Arrows Vice President Tod Leiweke. "Right now Gary owes his allegiance to us and not Team America. We're not going to let him go until the league tells us to."
For Tony Crescitelli, Team America represents a chance for a fresh start. A 15-goal scorer with the Washington Diplomats in 1980, Crescitelli has since become a reserve with the Golden Bay Earthquakes and he asked the team not to trade him. Instead, he asked to be released so that he could try out for Team America.
"It is every player's dream to play for his country, and I'd love to come back to Washington," said Crescitelli from San Jose. "I just asked the Earthquakes to let me go. There's nothing for me out here anymore."