Cut still puzzles Armstrong

June 18, 1994|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Staff Writer

Desmond Armstrong is too busy to be bitter.

Armstrong, who was introduced to soccer in Columbia and still ** makes his home there, is an accomplished illustrator with a one-man show at the Soccer Hall of Fame. He's the father of two pre-schoolers and partner in a venture that could bring a new soccer complex to western Howard County.

The former Howard High and University of Maryland star has played in more international matches for the United States than any other African-American, and his desire to spread the game to the inner city will be aided by his role as studio analyst on ABC's telecasts of the World Cup.

Armstrong is excited about the prospect of working with Jim McKay, but he would prefer teaming with Tony Meola, Thomas Dooley and the rest of the United States team, which begins Group A play against Switzerland at the Pontiac Silverdome today. The mid-May announcement that Armstrong was cut elicited as much surprise and criticism as any personnel move coach Bora Milutinovic made in reaching a 22-man roster.

"I was disappointed, tremendously," Armstrong said. "I felt that, if nothing else, I was a part of the 22. I know there's not any logic to the way decisions were made, so I didn't ask for any."

Armstrong isn't sure why he'll work the first World Cup in the United States as a member of the media instead of a player, but Milutinovic's controversial cutting of the veteran defender raised several questions.

Did his role in gaining U.S. players a louder voice and a better salary structure affect Armstrong's status?

Were three months and eight matches not enough time to overcome a disastrous showing at the Joe Robbie Cup in February?

Did Milutinovic disapprove of the prayer and Bible study groups organized by Armstrong?

With rules changes putting a premium on brains rather than brawn for defensive backs, why were enforcers like Alexi Lalas and Mike Lapper favored over Armstrong and John Doyle?

If age was a factor, why was Armstrong, 29, left behind instead of 37-year-old, injury-riddled Fernando Clavijo?

"It could be my play, it could be a conflict of personalities, it could be a conflict of personalities among myself and other players who are maybe very close to him [Milutinovic]," said Armstrong, who could join the Washington franchise that will play in Major League Soccer's inaugural season in 1995. "It may be the fact that I'm a person who lets his views be known, and maybe they felt threatened by that."

How blunt will he be on ABC?

"When the deal was finalized, I had to contain myself, because I realized that I'm going to be sitting across from a legend [McKay]," Armstrong said. "He's the kind of guy you can sit down and kick it around with, and I think the same thing will hold true in the studio. It will be a trade-off of personalities, and, hopefully, I'll be outspoken."

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