WORLD CUP USA ‘94: ROUND OF 16 : Team Mulls Future--in U.S. and Abroad : Soccer: At least five receive offers to play in Europe. Milutinovic evasive about coaching plans.


There was a melancholy mood among the players and staff of the U.S. World Cup team on Tuesday as they said their goodbys, exchanged telephone numbers and prepared to return to their homes or, in some cases, rejoin their professional clubs.

Their part in the 1994 World Cup ended by Monday’s 1-0 loss to Brazil, the U.S. players spent the day relaxing, assessing their futures and checking out of their hotel in Dana Point.

Not present was Tab Ramos, who suffered a skull fracture in the game and had remained in Stanford University Medical Center on Monday night for observation. Doctors said the break in the bone above his left ear would need three to six months’ healing time.


Ramos returned to Mission Viejo on Tuesday afternoon and is scheduled to undergo a CAT scan today.

Ramos’ injury is especially difficult for him because his professional team, Real Betis of Spain, was promoted to the first division at the end of last season and will begin training camp in a few weeks.

At least five players under contract to the U.S. Soccer Federation have been offered contracts by European professional teams--Mike Sorber, Paul Caligiuri, Alexi Lalas, Cobi Jones and Joe-Max Moore. Moore was a member of the U.S World Cup team but did not play.

Three others--Claudio Reyna, Frank Klopas and Mike Burns--are free agents and available to play for any team. Reyna is expected to sign a contract within a week.

The players under contract to the USSF are paid through September or October and the coaches are paid through December.

U.S. Coach Bora Milutinovic was asked repeatedly about his plans but was evasive. Milutinovic has lived in Mexico for 20 years, has coached at the club and national team levels in that country and still owns a home outside Mexico City.


However, Milutinovic and his wife, Maria, have been living with their young daughter, Darinka, in Laguna Hills and he has said many times he is happy with his lifestyle.

“If you are no happy in California, you are crazy,” Milutinovic has said.

His coaching future in the United States depends on several factors. Milutinovic’s boss, USSF President Alan Rothenberg, is on record as saying he is happy with Milutinovic’s performance in the three years the Serbian has been national coach. But Rothenberg must run for reelection next month and only after that will Milutinovic’s role be determined.

Although there has been speculation that Milutinovic might find work elsewhere, he would not say Tuesday if he had been contacted by any clubs. He did say he wasn’t interested in coaching a club again, saying that brought on too much pressure.

By most measures, Milutinovic and the U.S. team have been successful, having reached their avowed goal of the second round of the tournament. And Milutinovic has now coached three countries’ teams to the second round of the World Cup or beyond. The surprise in this case was how well the largely inexperienced U.S. team played in compiling a 1-2-1 record.

The players said they were excited about how the World Cup had brought attention to their sport, which in the United States has been a relatively obscure one.

“When everybody talks about soccer, everybody is into it, everyone watches the games, it gets a lot of attention--this is the way it is overseas,” Lalas said. “It’s a way of life. For an American, I’ve never experienced that. That’s not the way soccer is here. You go for so long just being an outcast, in terms of the sporting world, and then all of a sudden, Boom! It’s what you always dreamed and thought it could be. It makes you feel very good. You start thinking, ‘Why can’t it be like this all the time?’ ”


Others were more circumspect about the long-term impact the U.S. team’s success will have on the sport in this country.

“I really hope it lasts,” John Harkes said. “We set higher goals for ourselves as a team. We want to achieve more. To be on the field against Brazil . . . no one would have thought that. We’ll do better next time. I’m already excited about 1998. I really am.”