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An American Fanís Journal

June 23, 1998: U.S. fans remain loyal to their team.

June 22, 1998: Politics reigned in stands of U.S.-Iran match.

June 21, 1998: Free tickets provide Cupís best treat.

June 19, 1998: French cabbies and waiters know the truth.

June 16, 1998: The Great Paris Umbrella Riot.

June 14, 1998: A crowning moment for Nigeria.

June 13, 1998: Let the World Cup debate begin.

June 10, 1998: World Cup off to good start.

An American Fan's Journal: U.S. goes home and so do we.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes Correspondent

ON AIR FRANCE 28 COMING HOME (Friday, June 26, 1998) -- The United States. has officially been eliminated, we've about run out of francs, so we're heading home. This morning we learned, once again, there is a travel god, and occasionally he/she can be generous.

Our train from Nantes to Paris was late, the bus to the airport ran into heavy traffic and so we were running quite late to make the flight. At the airport we learned that Air France had seriously overbooked the flight, and because we were late we might not get on. We looked upset (it had already been a long morning) so the agent took pity and said those most magic of words "I will put you up front." So as I sip my Chateau Bouscaut 1994 (a trifle young, but quite nice) let me relate some interesting things learned on the 8:30 train from Nantes to Paris, and share with you, if I might, some of the lessons learned in the last couple of weeks in France.

We had an interesting car for the trip on the high speed TVG. On board were several very high officials of U.S. Soccer, some of America's top soccer writers and a number of sleep-deprived members of Sam's Army. The mood, interestingly shared by most on board, was one of resignation. As one ranking U.S. Soccer official (who will remain nameless because he was not speaking for attribution) put it: "You know, if some weeks ago someone had said we would come over here and lose to Germany 2-nil and Yugoslavia 1-nil, we would not only have said 'that's about right' but we would have thought it a reasonable result." Then he continued, "What makes this Cup so disappointing is the Iran result."

What he didn't say was that while the scores, 2-0, 1-0, might be reasonable, how they were achieved clearly were not. In sports they talk about "winning ugly." For the U.S. in the World Cup it was a case of "losing ugly." In the Germany match we were timid and overawed to the point of immobility. In the Iran match, we were aggressive but completely disorganized. Last night, against the Yugoslavs, that disorganization was just as pronounced, compounded by the fact that the offensive talent was simply not there. It was pretty clear that the U.S. could have played on all night and would not have scored.

Without a doubt through the three matches, far and away the best player for the U.S. was our newest American, David Regis. Think a moment, our offense, what there was of it, was provided almost solely by Frankie Hedjuk, and Brian McBride. Could either of them have made any of the 16 teams who went through to the second round? The simple truth is no.

The discussion on the train turned philosophical -- where do we go from here? It was at a more basic level than who will be the coach. It was clear last night that many of the performers for the U.S. will not be on the squad in Tokyo in 2002. So what should be done at the national team level over the next two years? Should the emphasis be on the Olympic Squad, and an aging group of veterans be allowed to continue on the national side? Or should the players of the future, like Johnny Torres, Ben Olsen and Brian Dunseth be slotted in now?

This is a debate that will be heard with greater frequency in the coming weeks and months. It has no simple answer. Perhaps a new coach can bring better organization to the national side, but what was absolutely evident here in France is that for the U.S. to really progress to the next level internationally, it has to put better players on the pitch. The real question is where are those players going to come from.

The only light at the end of what might prove to be an awfully long tunnel is that the people running U.S. Soccer are absolutely clear on the depth and dimensions of the problems, and are committed to solving them.

Now if you will indulge me, a few lessons learned in my several weeks traveling across France:

* If you come to France, get outside of Paris. I have been coming to France for many years and had never seen Lyon. It is wonderful, the equal to Paris in many ways. And smaller cities like Nantes or Montpellier and Bordeaux are worth a couple of hour train ride.

* Don't ever complain about the cost of gasoline in the U.S. Although we have still not mastered the francs per liter to dollars per gallon equation, as best we can figure gas in France is about five times what it is in the States. It cost us almost $70 US to fill the tank of our rental car.

* French chefs undercook everything, especially beef and fish. I am convinced that "medium" is French for "almost raw."

Finally, the French are to be complimented for the job they have done organizing World Cup 98. I only wish that all of you could have been there to share it with those of us lucky enough to have gone.

Thanks for letting me shares my thoughts and experiences from France 98.

Marylandís Bob Wagman wrote a nationally syndicated political column for Scripps-Howard for many years. At the same time he has covered soccer in North America for British and South African newspapers since the days of the North American Soccer League. His "Football In America" column now appears regularly in British newspapers. He can be e-mailed at MobileWag@aol.com.