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Stunned Armstrong Released by U.S. Team : World Cup: Veteran defender thought he was competing for a starting job before being cut with three others.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

There was no surprise in Coach Bora Milutinovic’s decision Tuesday to trim the U.S. national soccer team’s roster in preparation for next month’s World Cup. That had been anticipated for weeks. The shock was that veteran defender Desmond Armstrong was among the four players cut.

Also released were defender Jeff Agoos and midfielders Janusz Michallik and Brian Quinn, leaving the team with 25 players. The roster has to be trimmed again to 22 by June 3.

Armstrong’s position was never considered shaky. A veteran of the 1990 World Cup, Armstrong has been on the national team since 1987 and is one of the U.S. team’s most articulate and thoughtful players.

On the field, he was versatile, and had been asked to play at least three positions. When sweeper Marcelo Balboa was injured, Armstrong emerged as a team leader after taking over the position.

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Armstrong, 29, said he was taken aback by the decision.

“The word here is surprise, " he said. “Frankly, in my mind, I was pressing for a starting position. I don’t feel I was on the bubble. It was a lot of a surprise.

“I’m not angry or bitter. I don’t have a reason to be. I had my World Cup. I’m healthy, my kids are healthy. I have no reason to be upset.”

Milutinovic told the players of his decision after a practice at Salt Creek Beach in Orange County. He said he was proud that all took the news professionally and stressed how difficult the decision had been.

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“For me, the four players were difficult for my heart,” Milutinovic said later at a news conference.

The three players to be released later remain on the roster as insurance against injuries, Milutinovic said.

The four released Tuesday will remain under contract with the U.S. Soccer Federation through October.

Armstrong, who is married and has two children, said he would return to his home in Columbia, Md., early next week and look into a job as a television color commentator for the World Cup.

Quinn, 33, has been on the national team for three years. A native of Belfast, Northern Ireland, Quinn has been commuting for a year and half to San Diego, where his wife and six children live.

Michallik, 28, was born in Chorzow, Poland, and lives in New Britain, Conn. He is married and has a child. Agoos, 26, joined the national team in 1988 and lives in Dallas.

Armstrong’s release is all the more puzzling because of the emphasis Milutinovic has put on experience.

Former team captain and 1990 World Cup veteran Peter Vermes was cut recently and suggested that his outspoken comments had doomed him politically. Vermes was the team’s player representative.

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Armstrong, a starter in 1990, is also a plain-spoken man, although he is more likely to criticize his own performance than others’. Like Vermes, he is on the USSF’s board of directors.


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