Do you want to see it?" With that, Thomas Dooley disappeared into
the bathroom of his Washington, D.C., hotel room last Saturday
night. Moments later, after rummaging through his toiletry kit,
he emerged carrying a red armband inscribed with a black C--the
very band he had worn against Austria four days earlier as
captain of the U.S. team. "I have thin arms, and this one fits
me well," he said, proudly wrapping it around his left biceps.
A former German citizen whose father was a U.S. serviceman,
Dooley, 36, began learning English only six years ago, which may
explain why he calls the armband a "bandage." That malaprop had
a certain symbolism to it last week, for Dooley helped guide the
U.S. through a whirlwind healing process after coach Steve
Sampson's April 14 dismissal of longtime captain John Harkes. In
the Americans' shockingly easy 3-0 victory in Vienna, a new
alignment anchored by the new captain had the U.S. playing its
best soccer all year--better, even, than in its historic 1-0
upset of Brazil in February.
"I was happy to see that we played like a unit again," said
Dooley. "For the last few months the team wasn't very close. In
World Cup '94 we were all nobodies. Now everyone is a star on
his MLS team, and you have to get your ego back to normal when
you come to the national team. In Austria there was finally a
feeling that everybody is on the same level, whether he's on the
bench or on the field."
Dooley credited the solidarity both to an infusion of new
players and to Sampson's 3-6-1 scheme. Unlike the U.S.'s old
4-4-2 alignment, in which four defenders played mostly zone, the
3-6-1 requires two defenders to mark their opposing strikers
man-to-man while Dooley, the sweeper, roves like a free safety.
"It's the best way for us to play because we aren't that fast in
the back," says Dooley. "When we played a zone, you could always
say, Hey, that's not my man, it's yours. Now we're more
When Sampson assigned roommates in Vienna, it was no coincidence
that he paired Dooley with defender Eddie Pope, the team's
24-year-old rising star. Pope spent the time absorbing Dooley's
tactical advice and firsthand knowledge of European stars. "With
his experience he can tell me everything I need to know," says
Pope. "When he's on the field, you don't even have to think
sometimes. You just listen to him."
Dooley believes that the revamped, man-marking defense is the
best way to shut down his former countrymen in the Americans'
World Cup opener on June 15. "The Germans have very good speed,
but they don't like it if somebody is right on their heels,"
Dooley says. "On paper we don't have a chance to beat Germany,
but you have to think positive. It's just like the Brazil game.
Anything is possible in soccer."
Strange Trend in MLS
THE EXTRA-MAN DISADVANTAGE?
Through Sunday the frequency of red-card ejections in MLS had
more than doubled from last year--from one every 4.3 games in
1997 to one every 2.1 in '98--thanks to FIFA's crackdown on
tackles from behind. Even more startling, however, has been the
phenomenal success of shorthanded sides. Of the eight teams that
had played 10 on 11 for at least 30 minutes in a game this
season, five had been victorious. What's more, almost as many
shorthanded goals (12) had been scored as man-advantage goals
What gives? According to several players, being a man down
improves a team's focus without debilitating its offense. "It's
like when people go blind and their hearing becomes much more
intense," says Miami Fusion defender Cle Kooiman. "Your
communication level rises, and you become more aware of what's
going on around you."
Tactically, shorthanded teams almost always rely on
counterattacks to burn overly aggressive opponents. "We'll drop
everyone back inside our own half and let the other team walk
out with it," says defender Peter Vermes of the Colorado Rapids.
"When we win the ball, our objective is to get it wide and let
our guys run it down the sideline. When the defense converges on
the ball, we'll switch it to the other side. Then it's just a
footrace to the goal."
While some players weren't surprised when they learned of the
man-advantage jinx, others were stunned. "That's not supposed to
happen," says Los Angeles Galaxy defender Dan Calichman. "Maybe
we should try and get a red card in the next game."
World Cup '98
JAMAICANS DECRY BRITISH INVASION
The 2.6 million people of Jamaica rejoiced last November when
theirs became the third Caribbean nation ever to qualify for the
World Cup. Lately, though, coach Rene Simoes has drawn
increasing criticism from the home folks for pursuing a
time-honored strategy: recruiting soccer mercenaries. After
bringing in four English-born players of Jamaican heritage
during World Cup qualifying (including forward Deon Burton, who
scored four goals in five matches), Simoes has tried out four
more English imports for spots on the Cup roster.
With domestic players being cast aside, some Jamaicans have
become hopping mad that their Reggae Boyz are acquiring a
British accent. Tony Becca, the sports editor of the country's
largest daily, The Gleaner, has written several columns
attacking Simoes. "I had no problem with using the four players
from England during the qualifiers," Becca says, "but as a
Jamaican I would feel much better if the team was a product of
Jamaica, not England."
"Everybody is a coach," says Simoes, a Brazilian. "I look for
quality, and we play at a higher level when our England-based
players are on the field." No kidding. On April 20 against lowly
Macedonia, Simoes started a team of native Jamaicans that gave
up two goals in the first half. He sent in his Brits after
halftime, and Jamaica nearly pulled off the comeback, losing
2-1. After Jamaica fell 1-0 to Iran last week with four
mercenaries in the lineup, it was clear that Simoes still needs
reinforcements. That's why you can log on to the team's Web site
(www.uwimona.edu.jm/sports/ football/links/japlayers.html) and
see soccer's version of a milk-carton plea: "Do you know of any
other players with Jamaican heritage overseas? If so click
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER DOOLEY DESERVING A mainstay during Cup qualifying, Dooley (left) has been promoted to U.S. captain. [Thomas Dooley in game]
Q & A
Tampa Bay Mutiny midfielder and 1988 California high school
surfing champ Frankie Hejduk had been known until this year for
the big wave he failed to catch: Given a shot with the U.S. team
in '97, he overslept and missed his flight to a match in China.
But in February, Hejduk, 23, played all 90 minutes in the
Americans' 1-0 upset of Brazil, and last week he scored his
second international goal, in a 3-0 rout of Austria. His
prospects of making the World Cup team now? Most excellent.
SI: Are there any similarities between surfing and soccer?
Hejduk: Plenty. In surfing you're constantly paddling, and when
you catch a wave, you stand up and use your leg muscles. In
soccer you're using your leg muscles when you run and dribble
the ball, and you use your upper body to hold people off.
SI: What's your favorite type of Sex Wax?
Hejduk: Probably bubble gum.
SI: Did you really propose to your wife, Kim, while surfing?
Hejduk: It was in my hometown of Cardiff, California. I had her
in one hand and my board in the other, and I got down on one
knee and popped the question. I was waist deep in the water and
waves were crashing down on my head. It was cool.
SI: End the controversy. Which term do you prefer, bro or dude?
Hejduk: Both. I use one as often as the other. It's second nature.