The nominations for Strangest Soccer Story of the Year 2010 may not be closed quite yet but we've got one today that's going to be tough to beat.
One of the most commented-on stories in US Soccer history, after possibly Belo Horizonte and The Shot Heard Round the World has been Steve Sampson sending John Harkes home from France '98 after ceremoniously naming him "Captain for Life".
At the time it was said that, to make a long story short, Harkes was acting like it was his team or, put another way, was getting a bit too big for his britches.
It now appears that if Harkes was having problems in his britches that Eric Wynalda's wife was the one responsible, according to comments Wynalda himself made on Fox Football Fone-in on Monday night.
After more than a decade of silence on the subject, SAMPSON IS CONFIRMING in a copyrighted AP story that the reason he summarily dumped Harkes was that he was doing the Tube Steak Boogie with Mrs. Wynalda and, well, that kind of thing tends to cause, you know, some tension in the locker room.
For his part, Harkes is quoted as saying
"I am not going to rehash the things that have happened in the past...1998 was devastating to me and my family. It was hard enough not to play in the World Cup, but it was even difficult to go through that time period, the most difficult time period of my life."
Sampson says he discussed his decision at the time with then-U.S. Soccer Federation president Alan Rothenberg, Hank Steinbrecher and Sunil Gulati.
According to the AP story, Rothenberg said Tuesday he had no memory of any discussion of the matter, Gulati declined comment and Steinbrecher did not return a telephone message.
"The private issues for me were the most serious issues. I think I could have lived with everything else and kept John on the team if it had not been for the private issues. It's one thing to have an affair outside the team. It's another to have one inside. ... There are just certain lines that one cannot cross."
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I hate to pour cold water on a good, heartwarming story - a stripper in a thin t-shirt, sure, but not a good story - but I really think someone should and, well, I'm nominating myself.
For the last 24 hours the soccersphere has been positively awash with dewy-eyed comments about how Steve Ralston - AKA Saint Steven of Foxboro, MLS "Great, Great Guy Emeritus and Hail Fellow Well Met" - has decided that his deepest desire in life is to a) go home b) go back to his roots c) go back where it all started or d) track down the first girl he ever bonked, and so, at great personal sacrifice and motivated solely by his love for his home town and the goal of helping professional soccer take root there, he's signed up to play with AC St. Louis of the NASL/USSF-2.
I think it's appropriate that you all take a moment, bow your heads and reflect on the tenderness of this display of selfless devotion to the game.
While you're doing that, I'll be in the can tossing up lunch.
Let me say up front, just prior to being deluged by angry Ralston fans, that this is not about anything he has said or done but rather what's being said about it all.
Like everybody else I like Ralston fine and long ago forgave him for the ugly claims that he and Reis tossed around last year about all the bananas and machetes raining down on them in Crew Stadium. Despite the frantic photoshopping efforts of MLSTumors - efforts which would be comedic if it weren't for the fact that they were meant to be taken seriously - it's generally conceded that in fact no cutlery or tropical fruits were involved.
In any case, I refer you to the inimitable FRANK DELL'APA of the Boston Globe:
Here's the money quote from Ralston:
“I thought I was going to be back and something would be worked out for this year. I’m still in shock that it’s come to this. I will not be part of the Revolution. But this is a business and I understand that part of it. They have to do what is best for their side and I have to do what is best for me and my family.’’
Bottom line, it came down to - well, the bottom line. The Revs wouldn't fork out the kind of money Ralston wanted and he walked.
Not exactly the way it's being portrayed in St. Louis and elsewhere. ''In fact it reminds me a lot of the situation a few years back when a veteran American star couldn't get the contract he wanted in MLS and so ended up with the Battery in Charleston, where he promptly blew out a knee, ending his career.
(I was actually there, although I was up in the Three Lions Pub with a Boddington's in my hand watching on the TV).
What was the name? Oh yes: