FOXBORO, Mass. -- Embattled coach Steve Sampson promised he'd start a "dramatically different" national team against El Salvador yesterday.
He did -- one forward, three defenders, and, count 'em, six midfielders, with four more on the bench.
It worked. In the process, he may have found a new shooting star in that one forward, Brian McBride, whose two first-half goals headed the U.S. team to a 4-2 win in the final regional World Cup qualifier from this part of the world.
"We wanted to entertain the national TV audience and the people who paid to see this team. We wanted to play offensive-minded, and I think we accomplished that," said Sampson.
The U.S. team finished qualifying strong, which Sampson needed in his bid to keep his job.
The Yanks scored seven goals in winning their last two matches and stealing a shorthanded, 0-0 draw in Mexico City, while clinching second place in the region, a mere point behind the favored Mexicans. The Americans also were unbeaten at home during just over a year of qualifying matches.
And, Sampson's nine sitting stars, normally first-stringers, got no dreaded second yellow cards yesterday that the coach feared might keep them out of next June's first World Cup final-round game in France.
Despite his team's solid win, making its record since regional qualifying began last Nov. 3 a composite 8-2-6, Sampson did not hear a promise of being rehired to take the squad to France.
But words about the coach, whose contract ended with yesterday's match, from U.S. Soccer Federation president Alan I. Rothenberg, whose decision it will be whether to rehire him, seemed at least a bit more conciliatory than what has been reported in the past week.
"If it were a horse race, he'd be the odds-on favorite," Rothenberg said in the team's locker room. But he also said he still wants to talk with Sampson in detail about what's necessary to play well in France.
No decision, he said, would be made before the Dec. 4 draw deciding opening-round brackets in France.
In his postgame comments, Sampson, who seemed almost wistful at times, reiterated his desire to continue with the team, adding: "I think it would be very difficult at this point to make a change. But I've said all along that I will respect whatever decision is made. I intend to be a team player."
Yesterday's result left the Salvadorans' long-shot dream of qualifying for France blown away on a blustery, frigid afternoon before 53,193 bundled-up fans at Foxboro Stadium. Game-time temperature was 37 degrees, with a wind chill of 15.
The Salvadorans' loss, coupled with Jamaica's scoreless tie with Mexico, gave the Jamaicans the region's third and last World Cup berth. Jamaica became the first team from the Caribbean in 24 years to reach the finals.
The royal blue-clad Salvadorans made things tense for a while in the second half yesterday, cutting a 3-0 lead for the Americans to a mere goal with two surprising scores off transition plays in three minutes.
Then, midfielder Preki Radosavljevic iced the game for the U.S. in the 82nd minute, sending in a cross from Cobi Jones from six yards that goalkeeper Raul Garcia deflected.
It was a just reward for Preki -- as he prefers to be called professionally -- whose hustling play included entry passes that zTC resulted in the Americans' 3-0 lead early in the second half, even though statistically he was not credited with an assist.
Pub Date: 11/17/97