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WORLD CUP '94 : U.S. World Cup Coach Prefers a Latin Brand of Play

May 23, 1991|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The selection of Bora Milutinovic as coach of the U.S. national soccer team not only significantly boosts this country's hopes for a respectable showing at the 1994 World Cup, but it might also prove beneficial for those skilled in the active, aggressive Latin American style of play.

Milutinovic, 46, replaced Bob Gansler, who had a 14-17-5 record as coach of the U.S. team since 1989.

Milutinovic admittedly has a penchant for the Mexican brand of soccer, a style characterized by fast and durable players. He toiled with such players while with the Pumas of UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico), where he finished his playing career after stints in his native Yugoslavia and in France.

He later coached Mexico to the quarterfinals of the 1986 World Cup. That was a surprisingly good showing for the Mexicans, and so was the performance of the Costa Rican team, which Milutinovic guided into the second round at the 1990 World Cup. The top brass at the U.S. Soccer Federation would welcome similar results for the American side in three years, and at least a couple of Latinos who have seen action with the team think Milutinovic is the right man for the job.

"It is without a doubt one of the best moves made by the U.S. Soccer Federation," said Fernando Clavijo, 34, a Uruguayan-born sweeper who was not on the American team at the '90 Cup but who has played for the United States in recent international matches. "My style (of play) is very similar to his (Milutinovic's). It's a style with a little bit of cleverness . . . I hope I get the chance to play for him."

Said sweeper Marcelo Balboa, the former Cerritos High School standout and a member of the U.S. squad that went to the '90 Cup: "It's going to help the team because now we have a coach with a lot of international experience. . . . I hope he can teach us how to get to the next level."

The next level for the U.S. team is reaching at least the second round of the '94 Cup, after having failed to win a match in Italy last year. The team will have the home-field advantage since the tournament will be held in several U.S. cities. And though the sites won't be chosen until at least January, 1992, it is widely believed that the Rose Bowl in Pasadena and/or the Los Angeles Coliseum will host some of the matches.

Milutinovic should improve the lot of the U.S. team even if his proficiency in English--and capability to communicate with his players--is not up to par yet. Milutinovic, however, speaks five languages and his English apparently is improving.

"He's picking it up real well," said Dean Linke, of the U.S. Soccer Federation. "He can understand everything you say, but he has trouble speaking. . . . A lot of the players seem to speak some Spanish, so that will help."

Whether in English, Spanish or French, Milutinovic has one clear message about the U.S. team's chances in the next Cup.

"If I wasn't sure we could have reasonable success, I wouldn't have taken the job," he said.

Then There Was One: When Nick Leyva was fired by the Philadelphia Phillies 13 games into the season, the number of Latino managers at the major league level dropped 50%.

With Leyva gone, Cincinnati's Lou Piniella--who was born in Tampa, Fla., of Spanish ancestry--becomes the lone Latino manager. Besides, Piniella, Baltimore's Frank Robinson and Toronto's Cito Gaston--both blacks--are the only other managers from minority groups.

Leyva, a 37-year-old Mexican-American who was born in Ontario, Calif., was named Phillies manager in 1989. He was 144-189 with the Phillies, who finished tied for fourth in the National League East in 1990 with a 77-85 record.

Exclusive Club: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, former Dodger Fernando Valenzuela headed the list of batters going into the 1991 baseball season who had never fanned against all-time major-league strikeout king Nolan Ryan. The Mexican pitcher faced Ryan nine times. Valenzuela had eight homers and batted .202 in his Dodger career. He batted .304 last year with one home run and 11 runs batted in.

Mucho Bucks: Oakland outfielder Jose Canseco, who won't win any congeniality contests, is the highest-paid player in the major leagues this season.

The Cuban-born Canseco, who has had several off-the-field problems ranging from speeding tickets to divorce proceedings, will make $4.7 million in base salary in 1991, or about $127,000 for each of the 37 home runs he hit in 1990.

After him among Latinos come Dominican slugger George Bell of the Chicago Cubs at $3.27 million, Mexican pitcher Ted Higuera of the Milwaukee Brewers at $3.25 million and Nicaraguan pitcher Dennis Martinez of the Montreal Expos at $3.17 million.

Quote . . . Unquote: Senior Tour golfer Lee Trevino on how he learned the game: "I've never had a coach in my life. When I find one who can beat me, then I'll listen."

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