European pros want to play for U.S. German, Dutch stars have American ties

March 08, 1992|By Paul Sullivan | Paul Sullivan,Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- With the surprising success of the U.S. National soccer team in tournament and exhibition play during the past year, some notable European professionals with U.S. ties are showing interest in playing for the United States when it plays host to the 1994 World Cup.

The biggest name mentioned of late is German midfielder

Thomas Dooley, who shocked his country when he disclosed recently that his father was a U.S. citizen and that he hoped to use that to gain U.S. citizenship and play for coach Bora Milutnovic's American squad.

U.S. soccer officials would welcome Dooley, a defender who was named MVP of Germany's soccer version of our Super Bowl while leading Kaiserslautern to a first-division title last year.

To put it in football terms, Dooley's arrival would be akin to Super Bowl MVP Mark Rypien wanting to leave the Washington Redskins to play for Phoenix.

Milutnovic, in Chicago Thursday to help promote a pair of U.S. exhibition matches at Soldier Field on June 3 (vs. Portugal) and June 6 (vs. Italy), declined to comment. Milutnovic said he won't even make the final selections until mid-1993 at the earliest.

But U.S. National Team soccer chief Hank Steinbrecher was more open about Dooley. He said the organization will meet with the INS to discuss his request.

"If Mr. Dooley fits the criteria and wants to play here, we'd welcome him," Steinbrecher said. "He's a world-class player."

Steinbrecher said that it would take from six months to a year before Dooley actually could become a U.S. citizen. Once he declares which national team he will play for, Dooley will not be able to compete for another country during future World Cup play.

Other top European players who have voiced interest in playing for the United States include Holland's Ernie Stewart and England's Roy Wegerle.

Stewart, who grew up in Holland when his Texas-born father was stationed there in the Air Force, was the third-leading scorer last year for first-division Willem II.

Wegerle, who was born in South Africa but attended the University of South Florida and married an American, is a midfielder for the London-based Queens Park Rangers of England's first-division. He already is a U.S. citizen and eligible to play for the national team.

National Team general manager Bill Nuttal said he will meet with Wegerle in London next week to discuss his situation. The U.S. team is traveling to Europe for exhibitions next week in Spain and Morocco.

The question in some minds is whether having players like Dooley, Wegerle and Stewart, talented though they may be, will stir resentment. American hopefuls who live in the United States could be left off the team with the importing of foreign players with U.S. ties.

"We can't dictate who is entitled to citizenship," Nuttal said. "When a person becomes a naturalized U.S. citizen, he's eligible. This team wants to win the World Cup. Anytime we can get quality athletes, we will."

U.S. Soccer just moved its headquarters from Colorado Springs to Chicago. U.S. officials hope the move will help the city receive as many as six matches in the World Cup, which will take place in June of 1994.

FIFA, the governing body, makes the final decision on which U.S. cities will become host cities, while U.S. Soccer can decide in which venue the host team begins play.

Milutnovic said that he would love to have the U.S. team playing in Chicago.

"I like Chicago, and I like Soldier Field," he said.

Most have conceded the championship game to either the Rose Bowl or the Coliseum in California. But Chicago still hopes to host the opening ceremonies, according to former Sting owner Lee Stern, who represented Mayor Richard Daley at Thursday's press conference.

The venues will be announced on March 23, and the decision on which cities will get the title game, as well as the third-place game and opening ceremonies, will be announced around July 1.

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