Some of the name American players were wary of the concept and declined invitations to try out. Its training camp was twice delayed, and a coach wasn't named until the week camp began. Exhibition opponents included high school teams and circus all-stars, and it was shut out by the only pro team it played.
But when Team America takes the field for its first North American Soccer League game April 23 in Seattle, the events of the past two months won't matter. The dual sponsorship of Team America by the NASL and the U.S. Soccer Federation won't win it any games, nor will its status as the development squad for national team players.
After April 23, Team America will be simply one of 12 NASL franchises, placed in the Southern Division with Tulsa, Tampa Bay and Fort Lauderdale. Its progress for 32 games will test the ability of U.S. soccer players.
"If I was another general manager, and I had to play us, I wouldn't know what to think," said General Manager Beau Rogers. "We are an unknown quantity, but that could be to our advantage."
Although stars like New York's Ricky Davis and Steve Moyers, and Seattle's Mark Peterson opted not to play for Team America, the talent of the squad can also be measured by the players who didn't make it. Forward Njego Pesa, midfielder Angelo DiBernardo, defenders Boris Bandov and Colin Fowles and goalkeepers Winston DuBose and David Brcic, all of whom play for the U.S. national team, failed to make the roster.
"I'm very happy with the team," said Rogers, formerly the general manager at Tampa Bay. "We still have to add some players, but the team's attitude is great and I really like the way the players have handled themselves. Nobody expects us to win the Soccer Bowl, but I am used to success and I want this team to be as successful as possible."
"We will be competitive," said midfielder Rob Olson, a native of Fairfax and the only free agent to make the original roster. "I haven't played in the NASL so I don't really know what to expect, but a lot of these guys started every game for their teams last year. Some of these guys are great."
Coach Alkis Panagoulias has tried to stock Team America with what he calls "all-American boys," young players like Olson, defender Jeff Durgan and midfielder Sonny Askew, who learned their soccer in this country's youth leagues.
But the team also reflects the melting pot theory of the United States; eight of its 16 players are foreign-born, naturalized citizens. Free agent forward Antonio D'Antonio, from Italy, is still waiting to be declared a U.S. citizen, but he will play.
Team America's strength is its defense, and Panagoulias will use goalkeepers Paul Hammond and Arnie Mausser as his foundation. Hammond, 29, is likely to start; he finished as the league's third-ranked goalie last year with a 1.29 goals-against average and a league-high nine shutouts. Mausser, 28, is a veteran member of the national team and led the league with a 1.21 goals-against average in 1981.
"I would say Hammond is a little bit more experienced in instructing the defense, guiding his defense," said Panagoulias. "Mausser, on the other hand, is better in catching balls, high balls and crosses. I'm going to have a lot of difficulties choosing one of those two guys."
Team America is also strong on the back line, where Durgan, formerly of the Cosmos, is the central defender. Durgan, 21, whom Panagoulias named team captain, is big and quick and is best known for shutting out Fort Lauderdale's Gerd Mueller, one of the world's best forwards, in the 1980 Soccer Bowl.
"I think he is the moving force behind this Team America business, and that's why I named him (team) captain," said Panagoulias. "He believes in American soccer and I think he will prove himself as one of the best defenders on the team."
Durgan will get support from Dan Canter and Bruce Savage, both of whom started last year for Fort Lauderdale. Alan Merrick, who scored six goals for Toronto last year, and Hayden Knight, out with a broken foot, will split time between midfield and defense.
Midfield figures to be Team America's weakest position. Still, Panagoulias' offensive system, which uses the midfielders more as wings than ball handlers, should make up for the lack of a dominant creative player. Perry Van Der Beck, injured much of last year, is an adept passer and plays on the right side. Pedro DeBrito, the NASL rookie of the year in 1982, is more offensive-minded and shoots powerfully.
Askew, a former Washington Diplomat, and Olson, who played last year in the American Soccer League, will also play a lot. The midfield's strength figures to be bolstered in May when Rudy Glenn joins the team. Glenn currently plays indoors with Chicago.
With Panagoulias' offense, Team America should get the bulk of its goals from forwards Tony Crescitelli and Chico Borja. Crescitelli scored 15 goals for the Washington Diplomats in 1980 and had seven last season for Golden Bay.
"(Crescitelli) lacks a bit of technique, but we're working on it," Panagoulias said. "He's the scorer. His No. 1 quality is that he's always there if the opponents make a mistake. He's going to be there to punish them."
Borja had seven goals and 22 points for the Cosmos as a rookie in 1981, and had five goals and 20 points last year. D'Antonio, who played with the Italian junior national team, and DeBrito, who can also play up front, may also play some at forward.
Rogers also says Team America is looking at approximately 10 players in the Major Indoor Soccer League. Panagoulias has said he would like 20 or 22 players on the roster, and the team figures to sign about six when the MISL season ends in May.