Washington keeps foot in Cup door

December 16, 1993|By Gary Davidson | Gary Davidson,Contributing Writer

Dante Washington's dream of playing in the 1994 World Cup may have ended, but his involvement with the quadrennial soccer tournament is just beginning.

After apparently failing to impress the U.S. national team's coaches in a recent brief tryout, Washington, 23, is in his third week as a full-time administrative assistant in the World Cup USA '94 government relations office.

"Every soccer player dreams of playing in the World Cup, more so than the Olympics, but I don't think I'll be called back [to the national team]," said Washington, the second-leading scorer on the 1992 U.S. Olympic team and member of the 1991 gold-medal Pan American Games team. "Of course, I'd still like to play [in the World Cup], but it's not my decision."

Washington had 29 days over two stints -- Oct. 10-24 and Oct. 31-Nov. 13 -- to impress the U.S. coaching staff. He appeared in three games before being sent home from the national team's complex in Mission Viejo, Calif.

Washington, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound striker, said he knows he could have played better, but felt he played well enough to deserve a longer trial. He said it was difficult to fit in, on the field and off, when many of the team's players had been together for years.

In his first test with the U.S. team in March 1991 in Los Angeles, he scored two goals, one each in a 2-2 draw with Mexico and a 2-0 win over Canada.

"I kind of have a bad taste in my mouth," said Washington, who lives with his mother, Yolanda Robinson, in Columbia, and commutes to Fairfax, Va., daily. "I thought I could have had a better chance. But I guess I had my chance or as much of a chance as they're going to give me."

U.S. coach Bora Milutinovic would not comment on individual players, but assistant Steve Sampson said Washington was a good player who did not fit into the national team's system, which uses one striker, rather than the two Washington was used to.

"Dante has a lot to offer, but I think his style just doesn't mix with Bora's," said Sampson. "Dante was put into the position of having to be the lone striker, holding the ball sometimes against two defenders. Dante would fit more in a system where it was more direct and he could use his speed and strength."

One thing the national team has lacked is scoring, and Washington did plenty of that at Radford (Va.) College, leading the NCAA Division I in goals in 1988 with 27 and 1990 (23). In 1992, he was named an All-American before graduating in December 1992 with a degree in political science.

He had 82 goals and 66 assists in his four years at Radford.

"I'm big, I'm strong, I'm fast. That's what I use to my advantage," said Washington, who led Oakland Mills High to two state championships before graduating in 1988. "When someone needs a goal, I usually can get it. It may not look pretty. The purists may not like it. But when the box score comes up, it shows."

Veteran national team defender and Columbia native Desmond Armstrong said he had no doubt Washington was good enough to play for the U.S. team.

"I thought they could have given him more time to settle in with the team," said Armstrong. "I'm playing the devil's advocate, but again, we're on a short schedule here with the World Cup six months off. You either come in and fit in or you don't. We don't have time to develop players.

"I've known Dante for a couple of years now, and he has what it takes. If you talk about natural ability -- speed, strength, desire -- he's got it, and that's not something you teach."

Sampson said Washington is still in the national pool and could be recalled at any time. Washington said he would return only if he had assurances of being selected to the 22-player World Cup squad; his first loyalty was to his new employer.

"Just because they didn't want me doesn't mean I can't play," said Washington. "When I was out there [in Mission Viejo], I always knew I had a job back here. It wasn't like my life was going to crumble if I didn't make the team."

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