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Sampson names 20 to United States World Cup team.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Tuesday, May 5, 1998) -- There was a time, not even 10 years ago, when United States Soccer Federation found it difficult to find anyone to interview the U.S. national team coach. This afternoon, before announcing his World Cup team on ESPN SportsCenter, coach Steve Sampson spent more than an hour discussing his choices and his reasons with more than 130 media members on a conference phone call.

Sampson named 20 of the 22 players he intends to take to France ’98, as well as eight alternates. He must finalize his roster by June 2.

Here are capsules on the players selected.

The 20 named to World Cup team

Goalkeepers

Kasey Keller, 28 (Leicester City, England) -- Likely starter in World Cup. Been a mainstay in England since 1992, registered 16 shutouts this year in England Premier League. Was unused reserve on 1990 World Cup team, brought back to national team by Steve Sampson in 1995 after former coach Bora Milutinovic ignored him between 1992-94. Highlight was 1-0, 10-save victory February 10 against Brazil.

Brad Friedel, 26 (Liverpool, England) -- Probably could start on at least a dozen World Cup teams. Took over starter's role on third-place team in England Premier League last three months and has been outstanding. Was unused reserve on 1994 World Cup team. Starred on Columbus Crew in Major League Soccer last year after stints with Galatasaray (Turkey) and Brondby (Denmark). Will be 27 on May 18.

Juergen Sommer, 29 (Columbus Crew, MLS) -- Played in England between 1991-97 for Queens Park and Luton before joining MLS, where he replaced Friedel and has been a standout. Was unused reserve on 1994 World Cup team.

Defenders

Thomas Dooley, 36 (Columbus Crew, MLS) -- The soul of the team. Expected to start in central defense, though he could move up to defensive midfielder in a pinch. Highly respected by teammates for tactical awareness and is capable of effective runs on attack. Sampson is leery of playing him in midfield due to age and possibility of injury. Starter for United States on 1994 World Cup team. Will be 37 on May 12.

Eddie Pope, 24 (D.C. United, MLS) -- Best defender in the United States, potential unlimited. He has outstanding speed and has improved in physical aspects. Can play either outside marking back slot, or in central defense. A sure starter in World Cup. Proponents of college soccer point to his development in four years at North Carolina. Scoring threat off set pieces.

Mike Burns, 27 (New England Revolution, MLS) -- Tenacious player, he has been counted out of the picture many times in recent years, but now ranks as starting right back for the World Cup. Steady effort offsets lack of speed, stature (5-9, 165 pounds). Made key save of Andrew Williams shot that preserved scoreless tie in World Cup qualifier at Jamaica late in 1996. Was unused reserve on 1994 World Cup team.

Jeff Agoos, 30 (D.C. United, MLS) -- Consistent starter since 1995, he is a rugged defender at left back position who likes to attack. Probably won't start in new three-back alignment expected for World Cup opener against Germany, but could be a factor if four defenders are used. Strong delivering free kicks. Was late cut for 1994 World Cup team.

Marcelo Balboa, 30 (Colorado Rapids, MLS) -- Starter on both the 1990 and 1994 World Cup teams, has been overlooked in recent games. Central defender on national team, he plays midfield for Rapids. Came back from severe knee injury in 1993, also rebounded from injuries in 1997. Scoring threat off set pieces.

Alexi Lalas, 27 (New York/New Jersey MetroStars, MLS) -- Starter on the 1994 World Cup team, played 1994-96 in Serie A (Italy), starting 51 games. He is most recognizable face (goatee, long red hair) in U.S. soccer. Game has been in decline the past year. Scoring threat off set pieces. Will be 28 on June 1.

Midfielders

Claudio Reyna, 24 (Wolfsburg, Germany) -- Key to the U.S. offense, the central midfielder is one of the few American players comfortable with the ball, who can distribute and also adds scoring power. He probably would have started in 1994 World Cup but sidelined due to a late injury. Has scored five goals in German Bundesliga this season. Has raised his level the past year after being criticized earlier by Sampson for inconsistency and lack of fitness. Been in Germany since 1994.

Cobi Jones, 27 (Los Angeles Galaxy, MLS) --The hottest player on U.S. national team and in Major League Soccer. He has revived faltering career, leads MLS in scoring with seven goals, five assists. Has blazing speed from left wing slot, now is incorporating finesse in his game. Works hard on defense. Sure starter in World Cup, where he played in all four games in 1994, starting one. Will be 28 on June 16.

Joe-Max Moore, 27 (New England Revolution, MLS) -- Along with Dooley, most versatile U.S. player. Career slowed by leg injuries the past two years. Best position is central midfield, now occupied by Claudio Reyna. Also strong at withdrawn forward. Not effective at wing. Likely starter in World Cup if fit. Hustles on defense. Strong on free kicks. Pairs well with Eric Wynalda up front when two forwards used. Unused reserve on 1994 World Cup team.

Ernie Stewart, 29 (NAC Breda, Netherlands) -- Versatile player who can play up front or be winger. Plays defense well. Has good speed. Has scored more than 50 goals in Dutch First Division since 1990. Started all four games in 1994 World Cup, scoring game-winner in 2-1 upset of Colombia. Played two different matches in 23-hour period in 1997, going 90 minutes in World Cup-qualifier win against Costa Rica in Portland (Ore.), then flying to Amsterdam, where he went 90 minutes for NAC Breda the next night (local time), scoring in 89th minute for 1-0 victory.

Frankie Hejduk, 23 (Tampa Bay Mutiny, MLS) -- Has matured rapidly at the right wing slot, starting six games this year. Possesses great speed and willingness to defend. Was in Sampson's doghouse for several months after missing plane flight with team to China 16 months ago. Well-known for surfing, has matured with marriage and parenthood last year. Has shot at playing time in World Cup.

Brian Maisonneuve, 24 (Columbus Crew, MLS) -- Late bloomer who started just his second game for national team last month. His play as one of two defensive midfielders in 3-0 win in Austria was commendable. He is solid holding possession and going forward, but needs to play well on defense to have chance at playing time in World Cup. Will be 25 on June 28.

Chad Deering, 27 (Wolfsburg, Germany) -- Formerly a starter with Reyna, he has been on the bench in recent weeks, not a unique situation among other World Cup teams. Conflicting views on his defensive ability, with Wolfsburg coach Wolfgang Wolf saying he doesn't "have discipline for defensive duties," and Sampson seeing Deering as a "player who can close down and defend for us . . ." The U.S. coach also likes the way he holds the ball and moves forward. Has played eight years in Germany.

Preki Radosavljevic, 34 (Kansas City Wizards, MLS) -- Has one of the deadliest left foots in the World Cup, where he is expected to be a role player, creating instant offense off the bench. Played professionally in England (Everton, Portsmouth) in 1992-95. Long a star in U.S. indoor soccer Was MLS scoring champion (12 goals, 17 assists) and MVP in 1997 but has been stifled this year. Scored second-biggest goal (No. 1 was Paul Caligiuri's shot that beat host Trinidad & Tobago in 1989 to qualify for 1990 World Cup) in U.S. history in 1-0 victory against world champion Brazil. Will be 35 on June 24.

Forwards

Brian McBride, 25 (Columbus Crew, MLS) -- Strong header in target slot, he needs to improve with ball at his feet. Inconsistent due to ankle injury, which slowed him most of 1997. Possible starter in World Cup. Scored four goals in equivalent of four games of World Cup qualifying. Was fan favorite in 1994-95 season with Wolfsburg (Germany), when team was in second division. Will be 26 on June 19.

Eric Wynalda, 28 (San Jose Clash, MLS) -- All-time U.S. goal-scorer with 32, but only five in 17 starts the past two seasons, where he has been plagued by injuries. His recovery from knee surgery big question. Likes to play in floating attack role as part of two-forward alignment. Great finisher, strong passer. Difficult to find a partner. Where he fits in 3-6-1 alignment is uncertain. Sampson tried him at left midfield briefly, but it didn't work. Will be 29 on June 9. Starter in 1990 and 1994 World Cups but was ejected in '90 opener for retaliation foul.

Roy Wegerle, 34 (Tampa Bay Mutiny, MLS) -- A courageous player who has overcome nine knee surgeries. Strong playmaker from withdrawn forward slot. Can hold possession and is good finisher. Lack of mobility a problem. Overlooked much of last two years until recalled last fall, scoring two goals in World Cup qualifying-clincher win against Canada. Played a decade in England, mostly in Premier League, scoring 55 goals.

Favored for the final two spots

Tab Ramos, 31, midfielder (New York/New Jersey MetroStars, MLS) -- Starter in both the 1990 and 1994 World Cups, the brilliant playmaker has been plagued by injuries since suffering fractured skull from Brazilian Leonardo's errant elbow in 1994 World Cup second-round game. He has had ACL knee surgeries late in 1996 and 1997, and only returned to MLS action in mid-April. Great dribbler and passer, has excellent change of pace and likes to challenge defenders one-on-one down the right flank. Could be a factor in the World Cup if fully fit.

David Regis, 29, defender (Karlsruhe, Germany) -- Starting defender for Bundesliga team. He is a native of Martinique, is married to an American woman and is seeking citizenship in time for the World Cup. Claudio Reyna's take: "He's a very good player. He'd be a strong candidate to start. . . He'd be valuable to this (U.S.) team, definitely." Fast, he has scored five goals this year. He's mainly started at left back, has played sweeper. Could go at defensive midfield, too .Formerly played in France.

Has outside shot

Carlos Llamosa, 27, defender (D.C. United, MLS) -- An outstanding one-on-one marker, might be best in MLS. Teams well with Pope in central defense for two-time champions. Comfortable with ball. Not fast. Native of Colombia, moved to United States in 1991. Close to getting citizenship papers necessary for him to play in World Cup, but lack of international experience is a problem. Played in A-League in 1995 and 1996 before being picked up by D.C. United in 1997.

Alternates

Greg Berhalter, defender (Sparta Rotterdam, Netherlands)

Mark Dodd, goalkeeper (Dallas Burn, MLS)

Chris Henderson, midfielder (Colorado Rapids, MLS)

Roy Lassiter, forward (D.C. United, MLS).

John O’Brien, midfielder\defender (Ajax Amsterdam, Netherlands)

Tony Sanneh, midfielder\forward (D.C. United, MLS)

Mike Sorber, midfield (New York\New Jersey MetroStars, MLS)

David Wagner, forward (Gutersloh. Germany)

Note: O’Brien and Berhalter will come to training camp; others will be called if needed.

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