ROME, JUNE 21 -- As most American soccer players departed Italy following their first-round elimination from the World Cup finals, the president of the U.S. Soccer Federation suggested that soccer in America must move to interest black inner city youths and include them in what is predominantly a suburban white sport.

"The American player comes out of an upper middle class environment," the USSF's Werner Fricker, told Reuter. "He has never had to fight for his life.

"That player goes in against Czechoslovakia and the result is clear," Fricker was quoted as saying of the 5-1 pasting the Americans took. The Americans went on to lose to Italy, 1-0, in a stirring effort, and did reasonably well in a 2-1 loss to Austria.

Fricker echoed sentiments expressed by Washington-born Desmond Armstrong, the U.S. defender who played so well against Italy.

Armstrong and midfielder Jimmy Banks of Milwaukee were the only blacks on the U.S. team.

"To some extent, we are role models because we are here," Armstrong said before the games began. "If there's a spot for me, maybe someone else will say, I can do that too. . . .

"Maybe you're not going to gross as much as in the major sports but it's a good life. There's travel. Education through travel."

There can be money too. For now, if a U.S. player is good enough he must go abroad to make good money. The best prospects off the U.S. Cup team to sign with foreign clubs are goalkeeper Tony Meola, midfielders Paul Caligiuri and Tab Ramos and defender John Doyle.

Forwards Peter Vermes and Chris Sullivan already play with clubs in the Netherlands and Hungary, respectively.

It remains unclear how the USSF might go about attracting interest in the inner cities. But performances by Armstrong and Banks suggest the United States has an untapped reservoir of potential soccer talent in U.S. inner cities.