In the 73rd minute of the friendly between the U.S. and Scotland
last Saturday in Washington, D.C., Eric Wynalda, the American
team's alltime leading scorer, tried to hook a little
left-footed shot around Scottish goalkeeper Jim Leighton. As the
ball sailed just outside the far post, it resembled a good putt
that refused to break. The match, America's last before the team
headed off to France for the start of World Cup action on June
10, ended in a 0-0 tie, continuing a scoring drought that has
frustrated the U.S. team for the last month.
American coach Steve Sampson isn't ready to panic...yet. He says
his new 3-6-1 formation--three defenders, six midfielders and a
lone striker--has created "dozens and dozens" of chances in the
U.S.'s last three matches. The formation, installed in April, is
designed to stifle the opposition at midfield and provide
scoring opportunities with quick counterthrusts.
When the U.S. really needs a goal, it looks to Wynalda. "Eric is
one of the few players on the team who has that bit of magic,
who can make a difference in one moment," Sampson says. "He
constantly puts himself in position to score and win games for
June 7, 1998
One problem has been that Wynalda, 28, underwent surgery April
16 to repair a small cartilage tear in his left knee and played
only 73 minutes in the U.S. team's last two matches. In
Wynalda's absence the U.S. experimented with Brian McBride and
Roy Wegerle as the lone striker. Wynalda believes, however, that
he will be close to full strength for the games in France. "Four
weeks ago I had doubts I would be ready," he says. "But I know
now that I'll be all right."
The new formation worked brilliantly during a 3-0 upset at
Austria on April 22, in which the U.S. scored more goals than it
did in its next three home matches against Macedonia (0-0),
Kuwait (a 2-0 U.S. victory) and Scotland.
Ironically, the U.S. might be more productive against stronger
teams like Germany and Yugoslavia, the favorites in the U.S.'s
first-round bracket. "We're a counterattacking team," says
midfielder Ernie Stewart, who scored the winning goal when the
U.S. upset Colombia 2-1 in 1994 for the American team's only
World Cup victory in the last 47 years. "We're not a playmaking
team. When we have to impose our game on the opponent, it's more
difficult for us."
For a half hour on Saturday, before heat exhaustion set in, the
Americans controlled possession and varied the rhythm of play as
they could not have done just four years ago. Sampson believes
goals will come as Wynalda and other key players recover from
injuries: speedy winger Frankie Hejduk (strained hamstring),
midfielder Brian Maisonneuve (strained right foot) and playmaker
Claudio Reyna (strained right groin). All are expected to be
ready for the U.S.'s World Cup opener, against Germany on June 15.
"This [drought] is good because it's making everybody anxious,"
Wynalda says, straining to put a positive spin on the recent
paucity of American goals. "This gives us a little edge."
"One of the best things to come from these matches," adds
Sampson with a big smile, "is that none of our World Cup
opponents have truly seen us at our best."
MLS's Brighter Galaxy
THE RELATIVELY RICH GET RICHER
MLS's surprise signing of Carlos Hermosillo from Mexico's Cruz
Azul club last week for a $1 million transfer fee was a coup for
the three-year-old league, but by assigning him to the Los
Angeles Galaxy, MLS drew renewed criticism that its brass favors
big-market teams. Hermosillo, the Mexican national team's
leading scorer, will enhance the attack of the Galaxy, which
through Sunday had the league's best record (10-2) and its most
explosive offense (3.0 goals per game).
Los Angeles's windfall doesn't sit well with some of its rivals.
"Certain teams in this league will always receive preferential
treatment," says Colorado Rapids coach Glenn Myernick. "For
smaller markets this can become a competitive disadvantage."
Then again, MLS had little choice but to assign Hermosillo to
the Galaxy. San Jose Clash general manager Peter Bridgwater says
the league, which pursued Hermosillo for more than two years,
had made a verbal commitment to assign him to the Clash, but
last week Hermosillo, 33, told MLS he would only play in Los
Angeles, where members of his wife's family live. "It isn't fair
that he ends up in L.A.," says Bridgwater, "but it makes sound
business sense for the league."
Deputy commissioner Sunil Gulati says MLS made an equitable
decision. He points out that Los Angeles and San Jose were the
only two teams eligible to add a foreign player and that the
Clash received Mexican forward Francisco Uribe last week in
place of Hermosillo. "We had some discussions about parity,"
Gulati says, "but we also looked at what Carlos brings to the
league. In an ideal world, would he have gone to San Jose?
Maybe, but there aren't two million Mexicans in San Jose."
Q & A
Alan Rothenberg, who will conclude his eight-year tenure as
president of the U.S. Soccer Federation in August, recently
announced Project 2010, a $50 million development plan that
includes a year-round residency program for youth players at a
facility alongside Nick Bollettieri's tennis academy in
Bradenton, Fla. The goal, says Rothenberg, is to win the World
Cup by 2010.
Q: Saying the U.S. will win the World Cup in 2010 is a bit like
President Kennedy declaring the U.S. would put a man on the moon
by 1970. Is that realistic?
A: It's clearly an incredibly ambitious goal.
Q: One small step for a Brazilian, one giant leap for America.
How will it be done?
A: We have to find the most talented kids and give them a huge
amount of high-quality competition. In other countries
professional clubs take 12-year-olds out of school and put them
on a youth team and give them jobs in the locker room. Obviously
we don't want to do that--we have to develop a system that
allows kids to play and continue their education.
Q: Your program calls for an under-17 team training full time.
Won't that make those players ineligible for NCAA soccer?
A: Yes. I think this will be like baseball, where some kids go
to college, but the majority don't.
Q: U.S. star Tab Ramos says predicting a win in 2010 is
"ridiculous." You've also riled players by saying the U.S. won't
get out of the first round this year, which midfielder Claudio
Reyna called "insulting." Are you trying to motivate the players
with a little reverse psychology?
A: We have to be realistic. Germany and Yugoslavia are in our
bracket. On the other hand, we've beaten some of the major
powers--Brazil, Argentina and England--so while I'm not
expecting it, I would not be surprised if we made it out of the