Touting discipline and team chemistry, on and off the field, as elements that weighed heavily in his choices, U.S. national soccer team coach Steve Sampson yesterday named 20 of the 22 players he wants to represent the country in the World Cup next month in France.
Having dropped a bombshell three weeks ago by cutting midfielder and captain John Harkes, Sampson's picks contained no other major surprises. He left two spots to be filled, probably from among two players awaiting American citizenship and one recovering from his second serious knee operation in two years.
Two veterans of U.S. play in previous World Cups, defender Alexi Lalas, 28, and defender/midfielder Marcelo Balboa, 31, made the cut despite controversy over the quality of their play recently.
Fifteen of the 20 play on teams in Major League Soccer; the other five play in Europe.
In goal, Kasey Keller, 28, considered the starter, and Brad Friedel, 27, a close No. 2, will be backed by Juegen Sommer, 29. Keller and Friedel are now starters in the English Premier League, and Sommer returned from the English First Division this season to replace Friedel on Major League Soccer's Columbus Crew.
Sampson chose as defenders veterans Thomas Dooley, at 37 the team captain now that Harkes is apparently history; Lalas; Balboa, and Mike Burns, 28. He also named two D.C. United defenders who started regularly for the U.S. team throughout qualifying last year -- Eddie Pope, 24, and veteran Jeff Agoos, 30.
In midfield, Sampson's choices were headed by Claudio Reyna, 25, a creative but inconsistent playmaker who seems ready to take center stage for the American team after a successful year at the same position for Wolfsburg in the tough German Bundesliga. He scored twice and set up the other goal in the United States' eyebrow-raising, 3-0 win over Austria two weeks ago in Vienna.
Other midfielders are Cobi Jones, 28, who has gone in the past two years from pudginess and erratic play while building a reputation on MTV to, since January, playing the best soccer of his now 100-game career for the national team; Dutch-raised veteran Ernie Stewart, 29; and Joe-Max Moore (sometimes a starting forward), 27.
He also named three newcomers, the Tampa Bay Mutiny's Frankie Hejduk, 23; the Columbus Crew's Brian Maisonneuve, 24; and Chad Deering, another U.S. expatriate who is trying to build a career in Germany.
At forward, where the U.S. team has been haunted by serious injuries for more than a year, Sampson picked three veterans and one newcomer. All-time leading goal-scorer Eric Wynalda, 29, recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery; veteran knee patient Roy Wegerle, 34, recently traded to Tampa Bay, and Kansas City's Preki Radosavljevic, at 35 getting his prayed-for chance to play in a World Cup, will join Columbus' Brian McBride, 25, in vying for positions "up top."
Sampson left one of the two remaining slots open, almost certainly, he said, for veteran midfielder Tab Ramos, 31, who recently began play again in MLS after undergoing knee rebuilding.
Two defenders seeking American citizenship -- David Regis and Carlos Llamosa -- will get last-minute trials to make the team if their paperwork clears in time.
U.S. World Cup team
Alphabetically by position, along with players' clubs, here is the squad named to represent the United States in the 1998 World Cup in France:
Player .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Club
Brad Friedel .. .. .. .. ..Liverpool (England)
Kasey Keller .. .. .. .. ..Leicester City (England)
Juergen Sommer .. .. .. ...Columbus Crew
Jeff Agoos .. .. .. .. .. .D.C. United
Marcelo Balboa .. .. .. ...Colorado Rapids
Mike Burns .. .. .. .. .. .New England Revolution
Thomas Dooley* .. .. .. ...Columbus Crew
Alexi Lalas .. .. .. .. ...N.Y./N.J. MetroStars
Eddie Pope .. .. .. .. .. .D.C. United
Chad Deering .. .. .. . ...Vfb Wolfsburg (Germany)
Frankie Hejduk .. .. .. ...Tampa Bay Mutiny
Cobi Jones .. .. .. .. .. .Los Angeles Galaxy
Brian Maisonneuve ... .. ..Columbus Crew
Joe-Max Moore .. .. .. ...New England Revolution
Claudio Reyna .. .. .. ...Vfb Wolfsburg (Germany)
Ernie Stewart .. .. .. ...NAC Breda (Netherlands)
Brian McBride .. .. .. ...Columbus Crew
Preki Radosavljevic .. ...Kansas City Wizards
Roy Wegerle .. .. .. .. ..Tampa Bay Mutiny
Eric Wynalda .. .. .. .. .San Jose Clash
Greg Berhalter (D) .. .. .Sparta (Netherlands)
Mark Dodd (G) .. .. .. . .Dallas Burn
Chris Henderson (M) .. ...Colorado Rapids
Roy Lassiter (F) .. .. . .D.C. United
John O'Brien (M) .. .. ...Ajax (Netherlands)
Tony Sanneh (M) .. .. .. .D.C. United
Mike Sorber (M) .. .. .. .N.Y.-N.J. MetroStars
David Wagner (M) .. .. ...Gutersloh (Germany)
Also under consideration
Tab Ramos (M) .. .. .. ...N.Y.-N.J. MetroStars
David Regis (D) .. .. . ..Karlsruhe (Germany)
Carlos Llamosa(D) .. .. ..D.C. United
* -- Captain
Pub Date: 5/06/98