U.S. Cup team gets ready to take shape Final roster consideration starts with Sweden friendly

January 24, 1998|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

Is Roy Wegerle for real? Can captain John Harkes play defensive midfield? Where's Waldo? And, oh, geez, where's Waldo's man?

Answers to those and dozens more questions about the team that will represent the United States at June's World Cup finals in France will start to unfold publicly this afternoonin Orlando, Fla. There, in the Florida Citrus Bowl, the Americans play Sweden in a friendly (2 p.m., ESPN2) that starts coach Steve Sampson toward picking his team for the World Cup.

You might think, wow, Sweden, the 1994 World Cup's third-place team, a lovely team to watch -- what an ambitious start.

Nope. The Swedes missed this year's Cup and, rebuilding, will field a young, no-name squad minus even that wild-eyed fixture, goalkeeper Thomas Ravelli, who will play this season in Major League Soccer.

So, no sweat for the Yanks, right? Not in your dreams, said Wegerle, one of the three fittest of 55 players when camp opened Jan. 5 at Disney's new sports complex.

"We all want to be in the 22 who get to France," said Wegerle, who scored twice and had an assist in the last three U.S. qualifiers after Sampson called him from D.C. United after injuries left him few other choices. "It's going to be a tough fight, and we're all doing whatever we can to be part of this team. It's a healthy environment."

So positive has Wegerle been that Sampson guaranteed him another start today, explaining, "He's a great pro and a great example to the other veterans of what we need."

More scoring by the heady Wegerle -- who played seven seasons in England -- will give Sampson more attacking options than he's had in more than a year. Key among them are No. 2 scorer Joe-Max Moore, sharp after playing six weeks in Ecuador, and the gifted Brian McBride, both of whom missed much of 1997 with injuries.

Sampson wants to move forward Eric "Waldo" Wynalda, the top all-time U.S. scorer, to left midfield, where he drifts offensively, anyway. But, emphatically, Sampson said Wynalda must improve his defense if he wants to play there in France.

The coach also wants to try captain John Harkes at defensive midfield, a new role in which, Sampson said, Harkes' sure tackling and English-honed long, accurate passes past defenders would boost his value.

That also would give offensive license to Claudio Reyna, the young, play-making midfielder who is key to American hopes in France, now that he's a regular in the German first division.

Pub Date: 1/24/98

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