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MIKE DOWNEY

WORLD CUP USA '94 ROUND OF 16 : Klopas Can Score, but Bora Still Looking for More

July 03, 1994|MIKE DOWNEY

Perhaps you remember it. There's this song that goes: "Put me in, Coach. I'm ready to play."

Frank Klopas gets your drift.

"Exactly," he says.

He is the leading scorer for the 1994 U.S. World Cup soccer team, but he cannot get into a game.

He isn't injured.

He isn't suspended.

"If I could just get in there, just get a chance. . . . " Klopas says.

Then maybe he could score. This team is desperate for a scorer right about now. The American team has three goals in three games. One of them was accidentally kicked into the net by an opponent. If only someone could score against Brazil in Monday's game at Palo Alto, who knows what could happen? Maybe that someone could be Frank.

He joined the team Jan. 2. During a seven-game stretch between April 20 and May 28, the team scored 10 goals. Klopas got half of them.

He scored against Moldova, against Iceland, against Estonia, against Armenia, against his own native Greece. In three of those five games, Klopas' goal was the only one the team scored. In a "friendly" against German champion Bayern Munich in May, the Americans lost, 3-2. Klopas scored both of their goals.

And then the actual World Cup finals began.

And now he sits. And waits.

Even with midfielder John Harkes out serving a one-game suspension, Klopas has no indication his time has come.

After a practice Thursday at Mission Viejo, it was suggested that maybe Bora Milutinovic finally will toss the 27-year-old forward from Chicago into the mix.

Klopas shakes his head and says, "I don't know, because he had Cobi (Jones) on that side today. I'm not sure what he's thinking."

What the coach is thinking?

Perhaps that what this player adds to an offense cannot overcome what he is lacking on defense?

For it was Milutinovic who said bluntly, "He can score, but what else?"

This is passed along to Klopas, whose disappointment is palpable.

"He said that? I don't know why he would feel that way. I can play wherever he needs me to play. This is the only time I've actually played striker. My five years in Greece, I played midfield and attacker. I'll play any position the team needs me to play. Where I am now, it's not my duty to defend."

" He can only score? "

What do they want a forward to do--referee?

Klopas is sad, not angry. This has happened to him before. With the 1990 World Cup coming up, he was eager to contribute. He had been a member of the 1988 U.S. Olympic squad. That same year, the Americans needed a victory over Jamaica to help qualify for the first World Cup appearance in 40 years. Klopas scored against Jamaica--twice.

Then Bob Gansler, the U.S. coach, dropped him from the team.

The only benefit was that Klopas immediately got an offer to go to Greece. Gansler had accused him of not being in shape. Klopas signed with AEK Athens, a first-division Greek club. He became a big star, called simply "the American" by public and press. He already had 11 goals in the 1992 season when a ligament tore in his right knee.

Greece was a trip. Being recognized everywhere. Having every success toasted, every failure roasted.

The way Klopas recalls it, without regret, "It was amazingly stressful. You couldn't hide. Fans would be crying, coming over to your table, analyzing your play. They could criticize you in a way that was like they knew more about you than you did. Everybody's like a coach over there. The fans all think they're experts."

When his contract expired in December, Klopas came home. In Chicago, he had scored goals at an astounding clip for Mather High--70 in four years. Then he played for the Chicago Sting's 1984 championship team in the North American Soccer League. He tried indoor soccer too, scoring 39 times for the Sting in the 1987-88 season alone.

But now he sits. And waits.

His sister, Kathy, came all the way from Greece to see him play. She also is waiting.

"I'm ready to go," he says. "I think I'm the kind of player who's got something to offer to this team. It's frustrating and it's hard to swallow. I guess a lot of people have written me off, but people forget easily. I'm ready to go in at any time. I respect the coach's decision and I'm here to support my teammates no matter what happens, but I want everyone to know, I'm ready. I've never been more ready in my life."

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