In 1990, when the United States qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 40 years, it was a wet-behind-the-ears group of primarily college players that Coach Bob Gansler took to Italy. The result was three losses and ciao, babies.
When Bora Milutinovic had the U.S. national soccer team in 1994, it was a more mature, more experienced group that took the field in that summer's World Cup in the United States. The result was a victory, a tie, two losses and, hey, not bad, guys.
Tuesday afternoon, Coach Steve Sampson unveiled the U.S. squad he will be taking to France in June. It is, he said, a team that has the potential to reach the World Cup quarterfinals, a feat that would require a minimum of two victories and two ties.
Fantasy? Not according to Sampson.
"I think we have enough talent to get results, but it will demand an extraordinary effort on the part of all 22 players and the entire staff," he said. "I truly believe in my heart that we can do something special.
"That means getting a point from Germany [with a tie in Paris on June 15], and going into the Yugoslavia match [June 25] with three or four points [after defeating Iran on June 21]. And then who knows from there? Anything is possible.
"I think the team has a very good possibility of getting to the second round. I wouldn't put it beyond this team to get to the third round [the quarterfinals]. Because whenever we're confronted with the need to play very well against very stiff competition, this team always steps up.
"It's going to demand much more than just effort. It's going to demand a single-mindedness, a passion and a togetherness, [but] I'm going to remain a firm believer that this team can do something special in this World Cup."
Sampson named 20 of his eventual 22-player roster. The group includes no real surprises, all those selected being among the 76 players Sampson has used in 62 games since World Cup '94. Fifteen of the 20 play in Major League Soccer-- among them the Galaxy's Cobi Jones--two play in England, two in Germany and one in the Netherlands. The two players yet to be picked will probably be midfielder Tab Ramos, not yet 100% fit after knee surgery, and one of two defenders, Carlos Llamosa or David Regis, both awaiting citizenship.
If, as is almost certain, Ramos makes the squad, it will mean that 13 players are holdovers from Milutinovic's 1994 U.S. team. Three of them--Ramos, Marcelo Balboa and Eric Wynalda--will become the first Americans to take part in three World Cup tournaments.
Regis is the most likely final choice, although Sampson recognizes that adding a player who has never played for the U.S. could bring criticism.
"There have been players who have sacrificed years to get to this point, to be named to this squad," he said. "But at the same time, my single greatest obligation is to put the very best team on the field to represent the United States. And if [Regis] becomes an American, I don't differentiate between one American and another, whether they are naturalized or born here in the United States."
The squad will open World Cup training camp in Chula Vista on Monday and has three warmup games left, against Macedonia, Kuwait and Scotland, before leaving for France on June 4.
"I think we have a great mix of veteran players who bring an enormous amount of experience, combined with some younger players, like [Brian] Maisonneuve, like [Frankie] Hejduk, like [Brian] McBride, and even Eddie Pope, who provide us with some hope for the future," Sampson said.
"It's very important that we give them some experience in this World Cup so that we have a nucleus of younger players who can carry this national team into the future."
The difference between the 1990 and 1994 teams was maturity and experience. Sampson said the same applies now.
"We now have players who will be in their third World Cup," he said. "We have a number of players who have played in two Copa Americas [South American championship tournaments]. We have players who are gaining experience not only in the [German] Bundesliga but also in [England's] Premier League.
"I think we have players who have been through a World Cup in 1994 who can bring that experience and maturity and discipline and self-confidence into this 1998 World Cup.
"I also think this team is very tightly knit. That's not to say it wasn't so in 1994, but I think it's even more so this time around. I think this is a team that understands its identity now."
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
World Cup '98
June 10-July 12
United States World Cup Roster