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Shot for Washington seen forward move U.S.-Ecuador match here offers Sampson opening

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Memo to Steve Sampson, U.S. national men's team coach, who's visiting Baltimore tomorrow to help sell the U.S.-Ecuador exhibition at Memorial Stadium on Aug. 7:

Give the Dallas Burn's Dante Washington another shot -- up top, where he's played all his life, where he's scored regularly for every team he's been on, including for the United States in the Pan American Games and Olympic qualifiers.

It's not as if your 2-5-5 '97 team has a surfeit of forwards, especially now that Eric Wynalda is out with a groin injury and no one else effective seems in sight.

In all honesty, you gave Washington some seriously mixed messages for that friendly against Paraguay outside of St. Louis a few weeks ago. He was thrilled to be called up after an absence of three years. Then you and U.S. Soccer touted him publicly as a defender, a position he'd never played in his soccer life. He took it like a trouper, willing to try for his country.

You didn't start him in that game, which was understandable if he was there to learn the back line. But then you put him in late -- at forward.

"I didn't play well," he said in a humble self-assessment Tuesday in New York, where, if you didn't notice, he started and opened the scoring for the West in last night's MLS All-Star Game -- at forward.

But this Ecuador thing could prove a new tomorrow for him, a breakthrough day. Pair him, maybe, with Jovan Kirovski, the 21-year-old Californian who rode the far, distant end of European Cup-champion Borussia Dortmund's bench in 1996-1997. Agreed, he has promise, if only he'd just loosen up.

No doubt about it, though, Washington would relish this maybe unique chance to play before a hometown crowd. He grew up and learned the game here -- in Columbia, where his mother still lives. His father lives within a mile or so of Memorial Stadium.

P.S. There's no possible way Washington would do less than, say, David Wagner, another German bench-warmer you keep bringing over because old Thomas Dooley, a teammate on the same German bench, liked him. Wagner's done little for your attack except run fast, get knocked down or get winded.

Bet Wagner never led Germany in scoring at any level. But Washington led all U.S. collegians, twice, and he's scored in internationals, too. He's a pro starter, he's no tortoise, and his record shows more than a few assists. And few players even think about knocking him down. Give him another chance.

Two games to go

The U.S. Youth Soccer Association announced finalists earlier this week for its 1997 national championships July 30-Aug. 3 in Phoenix, in which two Baltimore-area boys teams will be competing. St. Louis and Detroit, by the way, are the only other major metropolitan areas with two clubs to qualify.

This is a bona fide national championship, some 3 million players having opened competition at the local level in the spring. With a few wild-card exceptions, only state champions advanced to regional play last weekend.

Now, in the Under-20, U-19, U-18, U-17 and U-16 brackets, the tournament's down to the final four, one team from each of four U.S. regions. It's knock-out competition: Win the first day, you're playing for a national title; lose, and third's the best you can do.

In U-18, Columbia City United, coached by John Ellinger, will be up against clubs from St. Louis, Birmingham, Ala., and Clovis, Calif., in going for its second straight national title.

In U-17, the Severna Park Top Guns, one of those wild cards that is coached by Navy assistant men's coach Rich Miranda, will be battling with clubs from Detroit, Miami and La Jolla, Calif.

Pub Date: 7/10/97

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