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Chances are slim that Harkes can return.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Thursday, April 30, 1998) -- John Harkes is in an uphill struggle to be reinstated to the United States national team. Chances of success are slim.

Coach Steve Sampson two weeks ago dropped the captain from the World Cup squad, citing performance, leadership and private matters, declining to discuss the latter.

He did stress what he said was the national team veteran midfielder's failure to embrace a suggested position change to left back or to jell effectively with central midfield playmaker Claudio Reyna when he was playing defensive midfield.

"After 11 years of service on the national team ... I can't believe it would come abruptly to this," Harkes was quoted Thursday in The Washington Post. "I didn't expect that a player ... would be treated in this manner."

He said he is seeking a meeting with Sampson next week.

Among the obstacles to his return:

  • Where does he play? He has been a left midfielder most of the time, and that position now is firmly occupied by Cobi Jones.
  • Could he learn to be a left back in one month? Would he be any better than current candidates? Besides, Eddie Pope was there most recently. Enough said.
  • The United States, with a new six-midfielder, Harkes-less alignment, had one of its strongest performances in memory last week, winning at Austria, 3-0.
  • Despite strong efforts this year for D.C. United, his play for the national team has been mediocre. He hasn't scored a goal since 1995.
  • Sampson has made a decision. How can he back away from it?

    Would a public apology from Harkes resolve the matter? Would more two-goal games like he had Wednesday against San Jose Clash help? Would his return bring a sideshow atmosphere to training camp?

    Teammates who have been interviewed and quoted say they are shocked, but Sampson, when asked April 14 about the effect of Harkes' dismissal on the rest of the team, said: "This will be an excellent opportunity for many players on the U.S. team to relax and express themselves more both on and off the field."

    Veteran midfielder Tab Ramos last week said: "As far as the playing side of this whole thing, it is hard for me to believe that John Harkes wouldn't be one of the players that is going to be traveling to the World Cup. . . But as long as -- we listened to Steve's statement where he said there was an issue that would be kept between John Harkes and himself -- until that becomes clear to all of us, it is very hard for me to comment on the whole story and what has happened here."

    Sampson's comments at the time: "If it was just an issue of technical concerns, John would continue to be a candidate for the World Cup team . . . probably coming off the bench . . . There are some things I will never make public unless John chooses to do so."

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

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