Tab Ramos in 1998: “This World Cup was a mess. It was a shambles. I think it’s unfair we couldn’t show the progress we made in the last four years.” (Andy Mead/YCJPhoto.com)
By Michael Lewis
The less said the better about the U.S. men’s national team’s performance at the 1998 World Cup because it was three and out for the national team in France.
You might say they whined in wine country.
The Americans’ situation turned into a mess just after their first match kicked off. Only 21 seconds into their opener against Germany, Claudio Reyna was upended by defensive midfielder Jens Jeremies. He was never the same player. The aging German side found holes in the U.S. defense recording a 2-0 victory on goals by Andreas Moeller and Jurgen Klinsmann, who was to direct the team at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
“In the first half, we showed them way too much respect,” midfielder Chad Deering said. “We gave them too much space. We wound up on our heels and we tried to play out of it.”
It didn’t help that the U.S. team’s headquarters was in the middle of nowhere in Saint-Jean D’Ardueres, some 25 miles north of Lyon at the Chateau de Pizay. It was head coach Steve Sampson’s idea.
And it backfired.
“We’ve only been here three weeks,” midfielder Tab Ramos said with a smile, fully knowing that he and his teammates had only been there for a week.
It gave them privacy, but little else. They had no feeling of being at the World Cup.
“The guys are going a little bit crazy,” defender Alexi Lalas said.
“I think we’ve seen the opening game six times [replayed on TV], feeding the ducks and doing nothing. Then there’s drafts. We’ve hit rock bottom.”
At least one U.S. player was ready for the lull times. Reyna brought along several books – Still Me, by Christopher Reeve, You Have More Than You Think and Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.
The U.S. still had a chance to advance, but it needed to defeat Iran in what was called “The Mother of All Games” in Lyon. In a game that gave a new meaning to the phrase political football, it was only the second time these two countries met in the sports area since the hostage crisis in 1979. Iran proved to be the superior side, taking a two-goal lead as the U.S. produced the wrong type of hat-trick, hitting each post and the crossbar en route to a 2-1 victory. Brian McBride had the lone U.S. score.
“We just weren’t clever enough to win the game” Reyna said. “it sits in your stomach. It hurts a lot.”
The USMNT was out of the World Cup with more one game remaining.
“The last four years are gone in a week,” midfielder Cobi Jones said. “It makes it difficult to take.”
By the time the Americans took on Yugoslavia in their final group game in Nates, they were a mentally beaten side with many veteran players complaining how they were misused or benched. Yugoslavia forged out a 1-0 win and moved on. Several days later Steve Sampson resigned as U.S. coach.
“This World Cup was a mess. It was a shambles,” Ramos said. “I think it’s unfair we couldn’t show the progress we made in the last four years.”