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Decision Time for U.S. Soccer : World Cup: National team officials must determine which players to offer contracts.


After a summer of competition that one U.S. Soccer Federation official described as a "roller-coaster ride," the U.S. national team is on vacation, while coaches and staff determine which 20 players will be offered contracts.

A roster announcement is expected soon. Veteran contracts expire on Oct. 31 and the federation must exercise its option to renew by Oct. 1; rookie contracts expire on Sept. 30, with the option to renew valid until Sept. 1. The new contracts will provide a glimpse of the potential U.S. roster for the World Cup, which begins in this country next June.

Bill Nuttall, general manager of the U.S. team, said the World Cup roster is mostly set, as Coach Bora Milutinovic has evaluated nearly all of the 36 players in the U.S. player pool. World Cup teams must announce their 22-player rosters the week before the June 17 start next year.

"The final (six) are tough, positions 17-22," Nuttall said. "A lot depends on the injury situation."

Soccer officials used this summer's three high-powered tournaments--the U.S. Cup, Copa America and the Gold Cup--to observe both the players under contract at the team's training base in Mission Viejo and internationally based players who are under contract to professional clubs.

"We had a good showing in the U.S. Cup, but we were disappointed with the others," Nuttall said. "The American public found that with the European-based players on the team, it was not the end-all to our problems. The reality is that with all our players available, we can, on any given day, beat the best teams in the world. The question is, can we sustain it?"

The U.S. team scored one of the sport's biggest recent upsets when it defeated England in the second game of the U.S. Cup. The Americans played well against Germany in their next game, but were knocked out of the Copa America in the first round after three dismal showings. The U.S. team made it to the final of the Gold Cup in Mexico City, but was listless and unorganized while losing to Mexico, 4-0.

The losses were especially hard to take because of the presence of several foreign-based players the USSF had called back to join the U.S.-based team.

"We had all the players for an extended period of time," Nuttall said. "We got to take a look at the chemistry, how they all mix. We got to mix some of the younger players in. We saw what we needed to see. Some players got stronger and others did not come along as well as we'd hoped."

One international player the coaches did not see was Hugo Perez of Torrance, whom Nuttall termed the team's "missing link." Perez has been playing professionally in Saudi Arabia, but is now a free agent. Nuttall said the federation wanted to offer a contract to the creative midfielder.

Perez's agent said this week that no offer had yet been made.

Contracts will only be offered to U.S.-based players who can train full-time with the team. The handful of overseas players will also be considered for the World Cup roster.

The list of foreign-based players continued to increase with the departure of Bruce Murray, who has scored more goals (21) and played in more full internationals (92) than any other American player. Murray opted not to re-sign with the national team and last week began training with Millwall of the English first division.

Former UCLA goalkeeper Brad Friedel, who is not under contract to the USSF, is considering an offer from a team in Great Britain, according to his agent. Veterans Paul Caligiuri and John Doyle are also expected to join European clubs.

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