A steady rain soaked the playing field at the University of Tampa this morning as Alkis Panagoulias lined up five soccer balls 40 feet from the net being guarded by David Brcic.
"Let's see how many of these you can catch," shouted Panagoulias, the new coach for the Washington-based Team America, at Brcic.
Then, in rapid-fire succession, Panagoulias, 48, fired away and two of his kicks, in opposite corners, got by Brcic for what would have been goals.
"Ever since I was walking, I was kicking," said Panagoulias.
After three days as the coach of the new club, a combination Washington franchise in the North American Soccer League and the official U.S. national team for international competition, Panagoulias says he likes what he's seen.
"To tell you the truth, I was surprised," he said. "I am very pleased with the quality and the ability of these players. They have good attitudes and they are working hard. The whole response of the players is excellent."
Panagoulias, who arrived here at midnight Monday from Greece, where he coached the national team from 1973 through 1981, is in the process of attempting to organize 22 native-born and naturalized Americans culled from teams throughout the North American Soccer League into a cohesive unit that can hold its own in NASL and international competition.
"We may get some more players from the indoor leagues, but I am not going looking," said Panagoulias. "I will go with what we have here."
In fact, league officials say, they expect about 10 players currently playing indoor soccer will try out for Team America before the roster is cut to 20 at an as-yet undetermined date.
In the meantime, Panagoulias, clipboard in hand, is running two-a-day practices consisting mainly of pickup games and basic drills on an unlined field that he sometimes shares with a motley collection of spectators, a baseball team and a collection of rugby players.
"I tell my players they sell the ball too easily. They give it up. That is what the Europeans will expect them to do," said Panagoulias. "The ball is almost like a magnet. Everybody goes for the ball. It draws the players out of position. Those are the mistakes the Europeans expect them to make, but we will not make them."
For the past few days, Panagoulias has devoted a significant share of his practice time to working with the four goaltenders trying out for the team--Brcic of the Cosmos, Winston DuBose of the Tulsa Roughnecks, Arnold Mausser of the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Paul Hammond, a free agent who played last year with the Seattle Sounders. All but Brcic, who saw only limited playing time with the Cosmos, were starters in the NASL last year.
"That makes my job more difficult because I have four excellent goalkeepers," said Panagoulias. "I will only keep two."
Final selection of Team America is further complicated by NASL rules that prohibit it from taking more than three players from any one NASL team. With seven members of the Cosmos here, that means at least four will have to be cut.
"I'd have to say there are more than three Cosmos players who are good enough to play for this team," said Jeff Durgan, a defender with the Cosmos.
Panagoulias, a naturalized American citizen, came to the United States in 1961 to attend Upsala College in New Jersey. A former player for the Greek national team and a veteran of 12 years of professional soccer in Greece, he coached the Greek-American Soccer Club of New York to three straight U.S. National Open Cup championships in the mid-1960s.
In 1969, he became assistant coach of the Greek national team, and as head coach of that team in 1973-81 is generally credited with the resurgence of Greek soccer. Under his leadership, Greece, for the first time, earned one of the eight finalist spots in the 1980 European Nations' Cup, and defeated such international powers as Italy, the current world champion, Poland and the Soviet Union.
He had been coaching Olympiakos, the defending Greek First Division champion, when named coach of Team America.
Goalkeeper DuBose and forward Njego Pesa of the Tulsa Roughnecks left training camp today to play in the NASL's Grand Prix indoor tournament Friday and Saturday in Tulsa. They are expected back next week.
Durgan stretched a muscle in his leg in a collision with Tony Crescitelli of the Golden Bay Earthquakes and will miss a day or two of practice. Chico Borja, a Cosmos forward, returned home to have a cast removed from his left ankle. He is expected back this weekend.