U.S. team plays for pride, Sampson Win in qualifying finale would help coach's cause

November 16, 1997|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

The U.S. national team's motivation to play well against El Salvador this afternoon in certainly cold, likely wet and snowy Foxboro, Mass., must come from within.

Ego and pride -- and perhaps coach Steve Sampson's job -- will be on the line for the Americans in a national TV game before 50,000-plus fans, but nothing more important, such as clinching a World Cup berth. Did that last Sunday.

Last week's U.S. star, reconstituted D.C. United striker Roy Wegerle, summed up things this way: "We want to finish out this campaign with a victory and try to tie Mexico [for first place] on points."

That would happen if the U.S. team wins and Jamaica upsets unbeaten but struggling Mexico in Kingston this afternoon. Ego-gratifying as such a tie would be, it would be irrelevant as far as playing in France.

U.S. players may have extra motivation with Sampson's job apparently on the line on regional qualifying's last day. They like him and his attack-oriented approach.

Alan I. Rothenberg, U.S. Soccer Federation president, has yet to commit to extending Sampson's tenure through the World Cup's final round, saying instead the matter would be reviewed in January. He was critical of U.S. Soccer's efforts, including Sampson's, after the team's unexpected 1-1 tie last month with Jamaica.

Sampson, who got the job despite Rothenberg's preference for a foreign-born coach, is the first national-team coach with a winning record (19-16-11 in about 2 1/2 years). Many of the team's losses came as he exposed inexperienced players to the international game in exhibitions.

"I feel confident that I deserve to be the coach to take this team to France," Sampson said.

El Salvador also faces pressure today, a challenge more daunting than what the U.S. team (3-1-5, second place in qualifying) experienced two Sundays ago before tying Mexico (4-0-5, first) in Mexico City.

El Salvador (2-3-4 and fourth) will get to France only if it beats the U.S. and Mexico tops Jamaica. Otherwise, Mexico, the U.S. team and Jamaica (3-2-4, third place) will be CONCACAF's three entries in France.

El Salvador has beaten the U.S. team only once in 14 tries. The U.S. is unbeaten the last five meetings, including June's tedious 1-1 qualifier in San Salvador.

For that match, the American consul in San Salvador honked off Sampson by warning U.S. citizens to stay away from the stadium because of possible fan violence. And FIFA, soccer's world governing body, suspended El Salvador coach Milan D'joric because of threatening crowds, except he openly managed his team via cellular phone from the stands.

El Salvador has not scored on the road in qualifying play while being outscored, 6-0. The Salvadorenos have yielded seven goals in their last two games -- including a difficult shot deflected in by their goalkeeper and a goal off an amazing 60-yard solo dash past two left-for-dead defenders at home last Sunday against Jamaica.

Which should give the Americans added hope today, though they are hampered by yellow cards.

A dozen U.S. players -- including eight "name" starters -- have one card each, meaning another could mean suspension for the opening game in France.

Thus, Sampson said, his job on the line or not, he would not play anyone in danger of missing that match, adding: "The U.S. team you'll see [today] will be dramatically different than the team you saw in Mexico and Canada. I hope people at [U.S. Soccer] understand what I'm doing."

That means rarely used Juergen Sommer is likely to be the starting goalkeeper.

U.S. back-line defense is likely to contain all new faces, mostly because of cards but, in the case of Eddie Pope, a hamstring strain. But Sampson has at least four experienced substitutes he can use there.

At midfield, in-and-out Claudio Reyna is out again for a silly, late yellow against Canada. Ernie Stewart is out again, too -- cards.

The picture at forward was blank -- no starters without cards.

U.S.-El Salvador

What: Final World Cup qualifier in CONCACAF region

When: 2 p.m. today

Where: Foxboro (Mass.) Stadium

TV: Chs. 2, 7

Pub Date: 11/16/97

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