June 19, 1998

World Cup: Whining and Complaining All Right With Sampson

By Ronald Blum

SAINT-JEAN D'ARDIERES, France - U.S. soccer players finally sound like real pro athletes: When they lose, they whine and complain.

The 2-0 loss to Germany on Monday left players questioning themselves and their coach. Steve Sampson, in turned, questioned some of his starters as the Americans prepared for Sunday's politically charged game against Iran.

Eric Wynalda, the starting forward, was a non-factor against the Germans, saying he never had the ball in a scoring situation and it was the first time in 101 international games he never took one single shot.

``Everything was in place for Eric to grasp the opportunity'' Sampson responded Wednesday. ``When Frankie (Hejduk) got in, he got off a shot, didn't he? Can you imagine how much work it took to get to the near post? Tab Ramos got off a shot. Brian Maisonneuve created situations from himself. I think it's all a matter of how badly you want it.''

Players said some Americans were hanging their heads in practice Tuesday night and Wednesday, and that it took some motivational talk from Alexi Lalas to get them going.

``Much of the team, just about everybody, was down,'' Ramos said. ``I think that maybe some of the people who weren't as experienced think about it a little more.''

Lalas, a starter in 1994, has been on the bench in recent months. The defender with the flaming red hair and goatee took it upon himself to try to wake his somnambulant teammates.

``At halftime of the Germany game, from the time the players first walked into the locker room, Alexi lifted their spirits and got them refocused on the task at hand, which was playing better in the second half,'' Sampson said. ``Today in training, he did the same kind of things.''

Ramos, who will start against Iran, and Wynalda were the most vocal players criticizing Sampson for leaving too many veterans on the bench against Germany and starting seven World Cup rookies. The coach said he thought his players needed to ``vent'' and seemed to pay little attention to the criticism.

``I think they were angry. It's more important to me how they play than what they say,'' Sampson said. ``It's natural to go through an angry period after a game like that, which I think is healthy. The best way to deal with that is to train.''

Players have criticized themselves for taking too defensive an approach against the Germans. The U.S. players can't afford to make the same mistake Sunday, when they need a win or a tie to avoid mathematical elimination.

All of them think Iran is the easiest of the four teams in the group, and many have concluded they must beat both Iran and Yugoslavia to advance.

``There's no more ties for us,'' Hejduk said. ``We can't afford to tie anyone. We have to throw as many people as we can forward. That takes a lot of running from everyone on the team, to get four, five guys in the box.''

Hejduk, who came in at the start of the second half, was the only American who came close to scoring against the Germans and will start against Iran. Sampson hinted he may alter his 3-6-1 formation (three defenders, six midfielders and one forward) and start two forwards.

That could result in starting both Wynalda and Roy Wegerle, or perhaps Wegerle and Brian McBride.

``We're going to consider everything,'' Sampson said.