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Americans Abroad

Once forgotten, Regis is suddenly the toast of French football.

By Mark Flannery (in Montpellier, France)
and Robert Wagman (in Miami, Fla.)

(Saturday, February 17, 2001) -- What a difference six weeks can make.

In mid-December, United States menís defender David Regis was sitting so far down the bench of his club team Metz that he seemed only a short step from being on his way completely out of France. The question he was most asked was when he would head to the U.S. to play in Major League Soccer. By the end of January, however, Regis was not only playing every minute of every match, but he had become a hero to Metz fans and the talk of French football.

What happened to afford Regis this amazing, career changing, turnaround? According to his teammates, and to Regis himself, it was not that he suddenly started to play any better. What happened was a coaching change. On Christmas eve, long-time Metz coach Joel Muller was fired, and in came 39-year-old Albert Cartier, himself a former defender for the club. One of his first acts was to put Regis back into the lineup and the player responded with his best soccer in several years.

Regisí problems with Muller, and with Metz fans and French soccer journalists, go back to last season and a must-win match on the road against arch-rival Monaco. Metz, which nearly won the league crown two years ago, last year needed to get at least a point at Monaco to maintain hope for a season gone bad.

When two starters went down with injuries, Regis entered in the second half, but with disastrous results. Almost immediately, he tripped and fell as he back-pedaled allowing Monaco to score. Later, he reacted late to an attack that led to a second goal. Muller and Metz fans held him responsible for the critical setback.

Reportedly, Muller felt Regis was more interested in his appearances with the U.S. national team than with Metz, and he made Regis a scapegoat for Metzís downward spiral. Regis also hurt himself in the eyes of French fans when he made it clear in interviews that he considered himself an American, that he was playing for the U.S. not because he couldnít make the French side, but because he wanted to help soccer develop in the States. Americans are not exactly French favorites under any circumstances.

Cartier did not see Regis as a mistake-prone player with divided loyalties, but rather a high quality performer who could help if given a chance. On defense and in midfield, Regis responded magnificently. In doing so, he became the toast of French football where fans everywhere know his name.

The high point for Regis came two weeks ago when Metz played away at Sedan, one of the highest scoring and most offensive-minded teams in France. He was an incredible defensive presence, shutting down one of Franceís best strikers with, what one journalist described as "a perfect match." Regis was named "Player of the Match" in the 0-0 draw which earned an important point on the road.

"The public has the right to express their dissatisfaction," Regis said. "On the other hand, I was very much affected by the press, notably by the spirit of their criticisms. I am not at the beginning of my career, so I have already experienced the ups and downs of soccer. I was fortunate that I am surrounded by friends and family with whom I can talk about things which put all of these criticisms into perspective and remind me what is really important in life."

He also credits U.S. coach Bruce Arena for helping him through the difficult times. "It helped me a lot to know that Bruce Arena still believed in me despite my difficulties with Metz," Regis said. "He never stopped calling me up to play. Each time I went, I integrated myself well and performed better than I had hoped. It also helped me to keep in shape thanks to the international competition."

Colombian national goalkeeper Farid Mondragon is a teammate on Metz. "David is a very fine player," Mondragon said. "Until the changes at Christmas, he was not getting a chance. The new coach has given him the chance and he is playing very, very well. He played a very fine match against Sedan. It is a very hard stadium for a visiting team, and we were able to take a point. I am very happy for him. He is my good friend."

Regis is expected to start as left back for the U.S. for the February 28 World Cup qualifier against Mexico match. It is also possible, maybe even probable, that Regis is destined to one day join MLS

"I won't go thinking that it will be finishing up my career. Rather, I would be going there and to have a good time with other American players," Regis recently told the editor of Metzís club magazine. "But now, my immediate future is in Europe."

Senior correspondent Robert Wagman can be e-mailed at bobwagman@soccertimes.com. Mark Flannery is an American teaching English in France and can be e-mailed at flan.overseas@wanadoo.fr.

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