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Op-Ed / Ed C. Morgans

Sampson, players share blame for fiasco; now letís move on.

Special to SoccerTimes

(Friday, July 3, 1998) -- To say the United States is the 32nd-best team in the world in soccer as a simple, unqualified statement isn't that bad. Think about it. Number 32, out of all the countries in the world - such as Mynamar, Suriname and Burkina Faso, that's not such a bad number.

But let's be realistic. The 32nd-best soccer team in the world is not a good title when your country qualified for the World Cup, an event that by the way, features 32 teams.

That means, even for us journalism majors that supposedly can't do math, the United States finished last in the World Cup. Yes folks, that was the Red, White and Blue holding the door for everyone else, bringing up the rear and looking up at the world.

Much of the blame from this column and elsewhere has fallen on now-former coach Steve Sampson. His lineup changes, formation decisions and personnel moves became a complicated algebraic equation equaling nothing but disaster. Yet, it should be duly noted that not all the blame belongs on Sampson's shoulders. After all, he did have a better-than-.500 record, which for a U.S. soccer coach is something to write home about.

Sampson also brought the U.S. team through World Cup qualifying just to get to the tournament, along with beating Brazil, 1-0, in the Gold Cup last winter.

As much as Sampson let the U.S. Soccer Federation and the nation's fans down with his decisions, his players let him down with their actions -- or rather, their mouths -- at the World Cup. Take this game from forward Eric Wynalda, for instance, courtesy the Associated Press.

"We were naive to think an inexperienced coach would see the value of experienced players."

Excuse me? Yes, Wynalda is the nation's all-time leading goal scorer in international competition, with 32. And yes, he should have been on the field more in the World Cup.

However.

The players who were on the field didn't do much of anything. Only Brian McBride's header against Iran that tip-toed its way across the byline put the United States on the board in the tournament. Yet, instead of turning to themselves, looking at the mirror and remembering that on 27 shots against Iran, they could only score the one aforementioned goal, many players turned on their coach. maybe they failed to realize that such dissension makes it impossible to win, whether you're playing a 4-4-2, 3-6-1 or what the U.S. might have needed, 9-1-1.

Of what value is one goal in 270 minutes? Even if the U.S. had played a defensive formation such as a 5-3-2, the 'Nats still would have had to pitch shutouts to have a chance.

So the coach messed up and, yes, the players messed up. Apparently, they got caught up in the all-too familiar refrain echoed by soccer fans everywhere. That being, the team must play the "beautiful game." The team must attack and get forward and put all its efforts toward going to goal.

That's a great strategy. But it can't happen with a one-forward formation and players who blast more shots in the press than on the pitch. And even when it does happen, such as the 27 chances created against Iran,the result didn't change. While commentators such as Seamus Malin lamented the sadness of the 2-1 scoreline despite the way the U.S.played, United defender Jeff Agoos, who didn't play a minute in the World Cup despite traveling with the team, summed it up better.

"Obviously, it was a very useful learning experience for me, watching the games and realizing that playing well is nice, but getting results is what counts."

Agoos learned the lesson, as did other players like Thomas Dooley and Brian McBride, who have come out and said pointedly that the U.S. didn't play well enough, despite what the shot chart might say.

Some it seems have stepped up and taken responsibility for America's World Cup farce. Now all that remains is for the U.S. Soccer Federation to stop addressing silly goals such as winning the World Cup by 2010. The new goal should be finding a coach and players committed to coming together and maybe, winning a game.

Say in 2002.

Ed C. Morgans is sports editor of the Prince William (Va.) Journal and can be e-mailed at pwedit@jrnl.com.

Articles and opinions expressed by other columnists are not necessarily the opinion of SoccerTimes.