Finally we now know the detail behind one of the sensational soccer stories in the U.S. men’s team history.
Former U.S. American team coach Steve Sampson has revealed that he decided not to take John Harkes - then captain of U.S. team - to the 1998 World Cup in France because Harkes was having an affair with Eric Wynalda’s wife, Amy. Wynalda was a forward on the U.S. team at the time.
These revelations have finally come to light after Wynalda brought the issue up on a the television show “Fox Football Fone-In” this week. Wynalda was responding to the recent news concerning England captain John Terry’s affair with the girlfriend of a member of the England team.
Without Harkes on the team, the Americans went 0-3 at the World Cup in France and finished last. Sampson was later replaced by Bruce Arena.
Harkes told the Associated Press on Thursday he didn’t want to talk about the past.
“I am not going to rehash the things that have happened in the past,” Harkes said. “1998 was devastating to me and my family. It was hard enough not to play in the World Cup, but it was even difficult to go through that time period, the most difficult time period of my life.”
Sampson told Soccer America, that although he wished Wynalda had not brought up the issue, he finally feels free to talk about the decison he made on Harkes.
“So for 12 years now I have kept this quiet, never dreaming that either one of them would ever make it public,” Sampson said. “But it’s on the record now, so I feel I have the freedom to speak.”
The blockbuster news, coming after 12 years, brings back many memories for those of us who were covering the U.S. team and Harkes, who played for D.C. United, at the time.
Ironically, I spoke to Sampson three days before he announced that Harkes, who he had labelled “Captain America”, would not be going to the World Cup. In fact, due to my chat with Sampson, I broke the story that he was calling D.C. United defender Carlos Llamosa into the U.S. camp. However, if had only I’d asked a question about Harkes, I might have broken an even bigger story. But why would anyone questions Harkes’ role at that time? It seemed certain he would be on the World Cup team. Later I wrote a column in defense of Harkes and one column highly critical of Sampson. In retrospect, Sampson was faced with a very tough decision. But even Wynalda at the time wanted Harkes to remain on the team.
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