Steve Sampson, the U.S. national soccer team coach, stiffly criticized yesterday Los Angeles Galaxy defender Danny Pena's refusal to join the squad for its Baltimore exhibition tomorrow.
Pena, 29, turned down his first call to join the national team, an invitation most players savor as a rare chance to compete with the game's best and potentially in a World Cup.
The player's reason, his team said yesterday, was the Major League Soccer club's intense schedule in the next couple of weeks. The Galaxy will play four games in an eight-day stretch, including two at RFK Stadium in Washington.
But the Galaxy also had approved Pena's joining the team, Sampson said, and U.S. Soccer learned of his refusal only after publicizing the player's call-up.
"In my career, this is the very first time that this has happened, so it was a bit of a shock," Sampson said following a spirited practice by the U.S. squad at Goucher College. "You just never know when those opportunities will come, or if they'll ever come again. It may be his last."
Three other players for the Galaxy, which D.C. United defeated in overtime last season in the first Major League Soccer championship game, also were called up by the U.S. team.
Cobi Jones, a national-team star since the 1994 World Cup, was excused after being injured over the weekend. Defenders Robin Fraser and Greg Vanney drilled at Goucher yesterday.
Galaxy forward Eduardo Hurtado also was summoned to play for his native Ecuador.
Pena was "either being misguided, or he doesn't understand the importance of the call-up, or he doesn't care," Sampson continued. "Any one of the three makes me disappointed, because I think Danny Pena has the possibility of an international career."
The coach said the U.S. team has no more exhibitions before January, when it will begin building toward the summer's World Cup finals in France, assuming it qualifies.
Asked if he might reconsider Pena in the future, the coach replied: "I never want to say never, but it makes it very difficult for him now."
Pena, from Culver City, Calif., joined the Galaxy this season after several years in the Continental Indoor Soccer League. He began playing soccer professionally out of high school.
The Galaxy, which only recently has begun to win regularly this season after firing its original coach, will play United on Saturday night at RFK Stadium and will remain in the area to train for another game Aug. 13.
That match, also at RFK, will be a quarterfinal game in the CONCACAF Champions Cup against an El Salvador club. United faces a Trinidad and Tobago club the same night.
The U.S. team looked more vigorous yesterday than it had Monday, when Sampson ended drills after only 20 minutes. The players, chosen from five of the MLS's 10 teams, all are tired from a heavy load of league games.
Ecuador's team made its first appearance at Goucher yesterday. But after traveling 14 hours, ending with its 4: 30 a.m. arrival by bus yesterday at a Towson-area hotel, the players merely jogged and did a long round of stretching exercises -- "to help them relax," their Colombian coach, Francisco Maturana, said through an interpreter.
The squad was missing its two biggest stars, Hurtado and striker Alex Aguigaga, who plays professionally in Mexico.
Maturana said Aguigaga was not invited because he wanted the Ecuador club -- a long shot to qualify from South America for the World Cup finals -- to learn to play without him. He also was unsure, the coach said, whether Hurtado would be playing, although another Ecuador official said the Galaxy player was due today.
What: International soccer friendly, U.S. national men's team vs. Ecuador
When: 7: 30 p.m. tomorrow
Where: Memorial Stadium
Tickets: $16-$40 through TicketMaster or at the Ravens' ticket office at Memorial Stadium. Group and youth discounts available.
Pub Date: 8/06/97