Sampson: MLS hurts U.S. in World Cup U.S. coach complains of exhausting schedule


Major League Soccer's scheduling is tiring players to the point of jeopardizing the U.S. national team's chances of qualifying for the World Cup finals, in the opinion of U.S. coach Steve Sampson.

Sampson, because of MLS pressures, could not get all of the players he preferred for Thursday's friendly against Ecuador at Memorial Stadium.

Then, after injuries in last weekend's league play struck down three key players, he was harder pressed to fill the vacancies.

New England Revolution coach Thomas Rongen, for example, begged Sampson on Monday not to ask defenders Alexi Lalas and Ted Chronopoulos to fill in because they were exhausted. Sampson backed off.

U.S. Soccer initially billed the game as a warm-up for the important Sept. 7 World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica in Portland, Ore., but subsequently repositioned it as a look at some young and second-tier pros.

Players were listless at the team's initial training session at Goucher College, some having played as many as four games in eight days. Sampson ended drills early.

"We're playing too many games in too short a time," he said after Ecuador won Thursday's meaningless match.

"Players, coaches, general managers all would agree. We [the national team] spent 20 minutes training on Monday, an hour on Tuesday and an hour on Wednesday. That's a big concern.

"When you're playing Friday-Sunday games on a consistent basis [as MLS teams have been doing on some weekends], players don't have a chance to recover," Sampson said.

"You wait and see: They're going to pull up with injuries. We're already starting to see it. You're going to see a lower level of play because players are tired."

The top American coach said the issue "has to be addressed, especially as we get closer" to the Costa Rica qualifier, which the national team needs to win as it tries for next summer's Cup finals in France.

"We don't want these [MLS] games pushed right up against that match," Sampson said. "Getting our top players in camp -- no injuries, in form, match-fit -- that's most important. If we can do that, we'll win."

In addition to 32 league games, eight MLS teams entered the U.S. Open Cup, and two, last year's champion D.C. United and runner-up Los Angeles Galaxy, also are in the CONCACAF Champions Cup, a professional club tournament.

United, if it wins in each tournament, will be faced with 14 games in 36 days -- a withering pace in a sport of 90-minute games played by teams with small rosters in hot weather.

Sunil Gulati, MLS's deputy commissioner, offered little hope in the U.S. team's locker room Thursday. But, pushed to address Sampson's concerns, he did not disagree.

"This is a particularly tough year because we have so many [World Cup] qualifiers," he said. "We've never had this many before, ever."

He attributed some of the problem to the new league learning its way around, but also said: "There are no easy solutions. We can't play 11 months a year in some of our winter cities.

"Something has to give, all right? Maybe it gets solved by somebody saying, 'OK, we'll play a 28-game MLS schedule, or the national team will have only two warm-ups, or we won't play in the U.S. Open Cup.' "

Pub Date: 8/09/97

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