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Op-Ed

Yanks can be glad it’s ‘over over there.’

By Mike Lopresti
Canada Kicks

(Friday, June 26, 1998) -- First, an ode to our soccer lads. With apologies to George M. Cohan, composer of the World War I "Over there" ditty.

Over there. Over there. 0-and-3. Fu-til-ly. Over there.
Oh, the Yanks were beat on.
Nantes to Lyon. One goal on Iran was our share.
Who's to blame? Pick a name.
All that dough, just to show, we're still lame.
We went over, to take an 0-fer
And we're damn sure glad that it's over over there.


Yes, the United States soccer troops are coming home, presumably departing at Dunkirk, which is the last time anyone left France this beaten down. Disappointing teams come and go, no matter what shape or size the ball, or whether it gets kicked, thrown, shot or hit.

America is not shaken. Unproductive World Cups have long been a national assumption. Like congressional scandals, or Disney World raising its prices, or New York taxi drivers from another hemisphere.

But you do not see unmitigated disasters like this every day. If I understood correctly, the idea was for American soccer to come of age this month of June. This team would boldly go where no U.S. teams have gone before, striking fear in the smirking world soccer aristocracy.

The television audience of new fans would enthusiastically flock aboard, trying to remember what a yellow card meant, and wondering when the TV timeouts are called. And all those parents who spend their weekends carting children to far-flung soccer fields in their minivans would know their miles were not driven in vain.

Then, unfortunately, the games began. The ensuing days of Pool F have produced enthralled Iranians, dominating Germans, triumphant Yugoslavs, and bickering Americans.

The U.S. team has taken to sounding like the New York Yankees clubhouse, circa 1970s. Only without the trophies and championship rings. The coaching staff has been shredded by its players, with gusto and vengeance, in broad daylight to anyone with an open notebook or a tape recorder that had batteries. Fines are going to be assessed.

That some of the sharpest arrows come from veterans who did not play much or at all sounds a tad self-serving, even if accurate. The head coach, Steve Sampson, a man unknown to millions of American sport fans until the past two weeks, has gotten worse press than the Rosenberg spies.

So there you have it. To the soccer faithful in this country, a club from which I am excluded, it has been a team guilty of numerous cases of malfeasance of play on the field. I have not a clue what it did wrong in strategy, but scoreboards do not lie. Not even soccer scoreboards, which speak in whispers.

Gracious knows what the rest of the soccer world is saying. If Brazil has a David Letterman, he must be having a sporting time with the Americans.

For the bystanders just watching out of idle curiosity, they have been backbiting, complaining, finger-pointing. Plus a loss to Iran.

To the casual observer, U.S. soccer is back to being the ski-jump. We stink. Case closed.

And in the background of all this, there is a World Cup where the security forces must be called in by the growing thousands to keep the various platoons of hooligans from ransacking France. The casualties are mounting.

So it has not been pretty. It is hard, in fact, to imagine a month being more damaging to a sport still struggling for a U.S. foothold. But it could be worse. There are no reports of any chairs flying out of American team windows. So when the year of 1998 is reviewed, the U.S. soccer players can say one thing with pride. At least they weren't on the Olympic hockey team.

Mike Lopresti is a staff writer for the Gannett News Service

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