Sampson will coach in World Cup Job is extended at least through France tourney

December 03, 1997|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

In a two-continent telephone conference, the United States Soccer Federation confirmed yesterday that Steve Sampson will continue coaching the American team through next summer's World Cup finals in France.

The announcement came with federation president Alan I. Rothenberg already in Marseilles, France, for tomorrow's draw for the 32-team World Cup final round and Sampson about to fly there from Los Angeles.

For the most part, both men, whose relationship has been cool, at best, in recent months, applied positive spin to what Rothenberg described as the federation exercising its option to keep Sampson.

Rothenberg all but threatened Sampson's job in August after the national team's embarrassing, lucky tie with Jamaica in Washington during the last round of regional qualifying matches.

And as recently as 17 days ago in Foxboro, Mass., Rothenberg was talking publicly about possibly replacing Sampson -- at 20-16-11 the most successful American coach in decades -- with a foreign coach.

But yesterday, U.S. soccer's top executive, whose own tenure is in its final year, said that, "We never talked to and, in fact, never seriously considered another coach besides Steve.

"While the media and fans were fickle and inconsistent, many calling for Steve's termination," Rothenberg said, "we've always been consistent" in saying his situation would be evaluated after qualifying ended.

Sampson expressed gratitude at being rehired, but under questioning about the delay said, "I've got to tell you, I'm a human being, and certainly, the indecision was a little bit worrisome."

He said he was especially concerned for his family, as well as about plans for training that begins in January. That planning, however, has proceeded with the expectation that he would be rehired, Sampson said.

He quickly asserted a goal for himself: "Taking this team to at least the second round, if not the third. Our goal is to achieve one better than the last time around in 1994, and I think we have the team to do it."

Rothenberg noted that getting to the second round may be more difficult because of the new, 32-team format that will let only the top two teams in each of eight groups advance to the round of 16.

In the United States in 1994, only 24 teams began World Cup play, with the top two teams plus three "wild-card" teams advancing out of opening round-robin play. The host U.S. team was one of those wild cards.

Planting seeds

FIFA, soccer's world governing body, decided yesterday to seed only eight teams in the World Cup finals, placing one team in each of eight four-nation groups for opening competition. The rest of the teams will be allocated to those groups on a geographic basis.

Tomorrow, following an all-star game in Marseilles featuring one player from each of the 32 World Cup teams, a draw that will be televised worldwide (ESPN2, 10: 30 a.m.-2 p.m.) will flesh out those opening-round groups.

In the opening round, starting June 10, each club will play the other three in its group, with the top two advancing to knockout competition until a new champion is decided in Paris on July 12.

No. 1 seed pool: Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands,Romania, Spain

CONCACAF/Africa pool: Cameroon, Canada, Jamaica, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, Tunisia, United States

Non-seeded Europe pool: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, England, Norway, Scotland, Yugoslavia

Asia/non-seeded South America pool: Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea

Pub Date: 12/03/97

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