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U.S. World Cup fate dependent on return of veterans.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Tuesday, April 28, 1998) --The condition of three veteran players remains key for the U.S. national team, which will begin its final period of training May 11 in San Diego, leading up to the World Cup in France.

The trio:

  • Midfielder Tab Ramos, 31, who debuted his 1998 season successfully for 45 minutes Saturday for the New York/New Jersey MetroStars after being out seven months with his second ACL knee surgery in a year.
  • Midfielder/forward Joe-Max Moore, 27, who also debuted successfully for 76 minutes for the New England Revolution after being out with a pre-season knee injury.
  • Forward/midfielder Eric Wynalda, 28, who played three games before injuring his knee earlier this month with the San Jose Clash. He is expected back in mid-May.

    All three can be dominant offensive players, but also have had more than their share of injuries in recent years -- missing huge stretches of playing time. The question is whether or not they can approach 100 percent fitness in the next six weeks.

    And not get injured again.

    Coach Steve Sampson has to be impressed with the way his new 3-6-1 alignment worked against Austria.

    That formation is under strong consideration for the World Cup opener June 15 against Germany, but probably will be changed for the second match against Iran.

    Ramos, if healthy, would appear headed for the right wing/flank position at midfield, which he prefers, so he can attack one-on-one coverage down the sideline.

    Moore, if healthy, may be slotted for an interior midfield position, where Claudio Reyna and Ernie Stewart sparkled in the 3-0 rout of Austria. He would be a top candidate for forward if the United States went back to its traditional two-upfront positioning.

    Wynalda, if healthy, could go to an interior attacking midfield position, too -- at least for the opener -- before returning to forward if Sampson goes with two forwards. He likes to float, rather than play a single-target, back-to-the-goal position usually needed in a 3-6-1.

    Uncertainty about these stalwarts means Sampson is creating plenty of optional plans.

    Citizenship status of two prospective defenders adds to the questions concerning the makeup of the starting 11, and the 22-member final roster.

    No word yet on whether David Regis, 29, a star defender for Karlsruhe (Bundesliga), will be available. He is from Mozambique and is married to an American woman. He last week was named Man of the Match in a game against Bochum. He can play outside back or central defense.

    No word either on the status of central defender Carlos Llamosa, 27, a starter for (Washington) D.C. United known for his superb marking and ball-handling. He is from Colombia, arrived in the United States in 1991, and played A-League soccer for two years before joining D.C. United in 1997.

    The roster possibilities:

    Goal (3): Look for three to be picked, with Kasey Keller in the lead, and Brad Friedel a close second. Both have played well in the England Premier League in recent weeks. Juergen Sommer has been outstanding for Columbus (Ohio) Crew and probably will be No. 3 for the second straight World Cup.

    Defense (8): Thomas Dooley is set at central defense, and Eddie Pope is solid at outside left back, though he can play anywhere on defense. Mike Burns remains No. 1 at right back. Jeff Agoos has been a starter most of the past two years at left back, and still figures if the United States goes to a four-defender lineup. The possible arrivals of David Regis and/or Carlos Llamosa could have a major impact, though how these players would fit in -- tactically and emotionally -- with no prior experience on the national team is a big question. World Cup veterans Marcelo Balboa (a starter in 1990 and 1994) and Alexi Lalas (1994) provide depth.

    Midfield (9): Cobi Jones started on the left flank, and Frankie Hejduk on the right flank against Austria. Both are exceptionally fast. Jones, unstoppable for the Los Angeles Galaxy, might be viewed as a world-class player after the World Cup. Claudio Reyna and Ernie Stewart were in the middle, with Reyna keeping possession, orchestrating the attack, and Stewart slashing forward on strong runs. Stewart also could go to the right flank, where he normally plays, and is a strong defensive player. Brian Maisonneuve helped himself playing the defensive midfield role with Chad Deering, but he must stay healthy. He suffered a mild ankle injury against D.C. United.

    Preki Radosavljevic is a dangerous attack-oriented option off the bench. Joe-Max Moore and Tab Ramos are major factors -- if fit.

    Forward (5): Brian McBride has a shot at starting the World Cup opener. He plays well with his back to the goal, an asset in a 3-6-1 setup. He is a good header, too, but needs to handle the ball better with his feet. David Wagner has shown moments of strength, though he was ineffective the first half against Austria. Roy Wegerle, 34, a master at holding the ball, is a possibility but needs to avoid knee injuries that have plagued him throughout a distinguished career, including this season. Eric Wynalda is the most accomplished goal-scorer in U.S. history, and like Moore and Ramos is a major player -- fit. Roy Lassiter is a longshot.

    Youth (2): Young players that might be added to provide atmosphere experience for the next World Cup are Jovan Kirovski, 21, a reserve midfielder with Dortmund (Germany), and John O'Brien, a defender with Ajax (Netherlands) reserve team.

    Jerry Langdon is Gannett News Service sports editor and can be e-mailed at jlangdon@gns.gannett.com.

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