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SOCCER : Meola Appears to Be U.S. Choice to Start in Goal


BAD RAGAZ, Switzerland — After months of experimentation, U.S. Coach Bob Gansler appears to have settled on a starting lineup for his team's ready-or-not plunge into soccer's World Cup.

The word appears is used advisedly because Gansler persists in treating personnel decisions as if they were state secrets.

But even if the 22 players have not seen the handwriting on a lineup card, they saw it on the wall here during a weeklong training camp that ended Friday.

In the final practice--the team goes to St. Gallen today to play Switzerland in its last pre-World Cup exhibition game--Gansler worked almost exclusively with 11 players in white jerseys, as opposed to the others in red.

Asked later if there had been any significance to that, Gansler said: "Were there different colors out there? I'll be damned."

Then he shrugged, adding: "You can write what you want."

So, it appears as if this will be the starting lineup for not only today's game but also for the June 10 World Cup opener in Florence, Italy, against Czechoslovakia:

Goalkeeper--Tony Meola.

Defenders--Desmond Armstrong, Steve Trittschuh, Mike Windischmann, John Stollmeyer.

Midfielders--Eric Wynalda, Tab Ramos, John Harkes, Paul Caligiuri.

Forwards--Peter Vermes, Bruce Murray.

No one should have been surprised, although Meola, who started the final four qualifying games last year and did not give up a goal, complained this week that he still was not sure whether he would survive a challenge by Kasey Keller from the University of Portland.

The Hermann Award winner last season as college soccer's best player while leading Virginia to the NCAA co-championship, Meola had the advantage because he ventures farther away from the goal. That allows sweeper Windischmann, the last line of defense before the goalkeeper, to assert himself more in the offense.

After his team scored only six goals in eight qualifying games last year, Gansler's objective has been to improve the attack while not weakening the defense. This year's find, Wynalda, was moved from forward to the midfield to give the team another proven scorer to complement Vermes and Murray.

That lineup should be tested against Switzerland, which did not earn a berth in the World Cup but has been making life difficult for teams that did.

Three weeks ago in Berne, defending champion Argentina, with Maradona in the lineup, scored in the final minute to tie the Swiss, 1-1. Earlier this year, Switzerland beat Romania, 2-1, in Lucerne and lost, 1-0, to Italy in Basel.

Gansler said he wanted to play the Swiss because their style is similar to those of two of the United States' first-round opponents', Czechoslovakia and Austria. The other first-round opponent is Italy.

"They're a well-organized, talented team," Gansler said.

Switzerland's coach, Uli Stielke, was less complimentary when asked about the United States after its 4-1 victory over Liechtenstein Wednesday.

Stielke, West Germany's sweeper in the 1982 World Cup, said he admired the U.S. players' strength and athletic abilities but not their technique. Not only did he predict they will finish last in their first-round group, he said that among the 24 teams in Italy, the only one they are superior to is the United Arab Emirates.

It is hardly novel to criticize U.S. technique. Other coaches, including Austria's Josef Hickersberger, have said that is the area that most separates U.S. international teams from those in Europe and South America.

"I can agree with that," Gansler said. "On the one hand, these are the best technical players we've ever had. On the other hand, even though we've made great strides, the emphasis still has to be in that area.

"But I think we're going to surprise some people. We're better than some people think we are in that area."

There is no time to make significant improvements. The team will arrive at its training camp in Tirrenia, Italy, Sunday, one week before its opening game.

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