FC Cincinnati and Other Temporary Assignments

As a matter of fact, I do take credit for reminding CONCACAF that this was supposed to be a thing

In other news.  The temptation to try to make the pregnancies of Sydney Leroux Dwyer and Amy Rodriguez into a Serious Cultural Thinkpiece is disturbingly large.  After all, no male athlete, barring a great deal of advancement in scientific research, is ever going to be in a position to miss a tournament for a similar reason.  But....well, they weren't gonna make the Olympics roster anyway, so why NOT get pregnant?

In other not remotely in the same realm as news - what's the first thing you think of when I say the name "John Harkes."

US Soccer Hall of Fame midfielder who played in two World Cups and now coaches FC Cincinnati, naturally. 

Coach Harkes was interviewed last Wednesday afternoon by the local sports talk radio show.  Harkes - and I'm paraphrasing, because I was on a highway where pulling over and taking notes was not a wise option - promised to recruit winners on and off the field.  FC Cincinnati wants to connect with the community and field a team the city can be proud of.  He also - and this is for sure a direct quote - wanted to make sure his players had a "code of ethics."

It's remotely possible that I, after years of careful cultivation, still have a reader who is not familiar with the fact that John Harkes could have played in three, not two, World Cups, but was dropped from the 1998 World Cup team for off-field reasons.  But 1998 was a long time ago.  There are US national team fans who weren't even born in 1998.

....okay, I wasn't born in 1998.  Who weren't alive in 1998, or don't remember 1998, is what I meant.

And there are also dozens, perhaps scores, of people who may now be American soccer fans, but for whatever reason weren't following the US national team in the first Clinton era.  So allow me to nutshell it for you:

April 1998, it is announced that John Harkes has been dropped from the US national team.

Yet Sampson said last week at least 50 percent of his dissatisfaction resulted from Harkes' "insistence" at playing in the midfield. The other problem areas, Sampson said, were leadership and discipline. "If it was purely a decision based on (Harkes') performance," Sampson said, "he would probably be on the team right now."

Sampson also stated "there are some things I will never make public unless John chooses to do so."

Harkes denied he and Sampson had secret battles or that there were problems regarding where Harkes played.

"I wasn't insistent," Harkes said. "I don't know where he got the feeling I had a problem playing different areas."

Harkes still holds on to the hope of changing Sampson's mind.

And if he can't?

"I've had sleepless nights," he said. "When someone challenges your livelihood, what you have done all your life, it's hard to swallow. But I'll continue on. I'm a strong man. I will get through it."

In 1999, Harkes wrote a book and addressed the controversy.

"One and a half years of traveling to Central America, producing results, and having bags of urine thrown on you by angry fans apparently counted for nothing. The coach who talked about the importance of team chemistry took on players weeks before the beginning of the World Cup who had never been on the field with the team."

"The new guys . . . had a trip to France handed to them on a silver platter. Welcome to the national team: here's a chance to play in the greatest tournament in the world. They didn't have to go through the battles that some of us did.

Eleven years later, several rumors about the 1998 roster were confirmed by various sources.

Three weeks later, on April 14, 1998, Sampson publicly confirmed rumors that had been circulating of Harkes' dismissal. Yet in making the announcement Sampson referred only to "leadership issues" and disputes regarding Harkes' role in the team. The following month, Harkes flew to Southern California to plead with Sampson for reinstatement, a very public embarrassment that may have further split apart the players, many of whom held their former captain in very high regard.

As does Sampson, at least as a player and a leader. "There were a number of [players] who were disappointed that John was not a member of the team," he says. "I don't even know today if they would have supported the decision I made if they had known. There were players who were very loyal to John, and rightfully so. John had paid his dues, he deserved to be there, he deserved to be on the national team, and I believe he deserved to be the captain.

"I would have loved to have gone to that World Cup with John Harkes; he would have made a difference on the field. But after this series of acts, one being incredibly severe, I didn't believe he still had the right to be there. It's really unfortunate.

And this is what Harkes told Ronald Blum of the AP in response:

"I am not going to rehash the things that have happened in the past," Harkes said Tuesday in a telephone interview. "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."

So I asked the talk show host why he didn't ask about this difficult time period.  And I've asked the team what they plan to do if Harkes trots out his "code of ethics" line again in front of a less friendly journalist.  It will probably not surprise you to hear that I have been ignored like a fart during High Mass.

Well, maybe it's just me.  Maybe I'm the last man on Earth, with the possible exception of Wynalda and Sampson, who still cares about how Harkes left the 1998 World Cup team.

And it was eighteen years ago.  It affected me less than the proverbial butterfly's flapping wings.  I don't even think Harkes would have helped us win a game in France.

So I don't have standing to demand a public apology.  But at least I can point out that he hasn't given one.

Well, maybe he's phoned up Sampson and Wynalda since then, and cleared the air, and for some reason all three of them never mentioned that.  It's possible. 

But you could at least let a guy know.  I damn near drove off the road laughing.

On the bright side, FC Cincinnati announced they signed Omar Cummings.  That's a good pickup, I'll look forward to seeing him.