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Agoos finally ready to play

Posted: Monday, June 03, 2002

SEOUL, South Korea -- Brad Friedel yelled down the hall to Jeff Agoos.

''How old are you? Forty?'' the goalkeeper barked.

''Just 22,'' Goose replied. ''A year younger than Brad.''

''Just in hair,'' the bald goalkeeper replied, laughing.

Agoos, the old man of the U.S. soccer team at 34, has 130 international appearances, second-most among American players behind Cobi Jones. That list does not include a single World Cup game.

He wasn't considered for the 1990 roster, was the last player cut in 1994 and sat on the bench four years ago -- even though he had been in 14 of the 16 qualifiers for France '98.

Now he seems set to make his World Cup debut in the Americans' opener against Portugal on Wednesday. His family will be in the stands along with some friends, looking on at a moment Agoos often thought would never come.

''I don't see this as the one piece that was going to complete the puzzle,'' he said.

It's hard to quantify what the ponytailed central defender brings to the team. The only statistic in soccer that means much is goals, and he has four for the U.S. team. But how do you put a number on area protected? Attackers forced to the side? Balls knocked away?

''The greatest quality he brings to the team is his consistency,'' U.S. coach Bruce Arena said.

Agoos knows that the average U.S. sports fan has no idea how to evaluate him. ''America is a country of numbers,'' he said.

That doesn't bother him. Soccer bashers do.

''The thing that gets to me is not taking the time to understand the sport,'' he said. ''It's a joke when they go so far as to bury it. If you don't like it, that's fine. We're not shoving it down people's throats. But don't bash us.''

Agoos has always been a winner and he's always showed spark. That's why not being in a World Cup game until now hasn't angered him.

''It wasn't the be-all and end-all of my career,'' he said. ''I've won four MLS championships, the CONCACAF Champions Cup, the Interamerican Cup, an NCAA title. U.S. Open Cup.''

When Bora Milutinovic bypassed him for the 1994 World Cup roster, Agoos burned his shirt and shorts in anger. Yet, Milutinovic asked him back in the Americans' first exhibition game after the tournament at soccer's most revered site.

''That was very difficult, because I wasn't sure what I wanted to do,'' Agoos said. ''The chance to play against England at Wembley, it's tough to turn that down.''

When Steve Sampson didn't use Agoos in 1998, he was among the veterans who fumed and said he wouldn't play for the team until there was a coaching change.

''I'm rooting for Goose, I really am,'' Sampson said Sunday. ''I was deeply saddened that I didn't have an opportunity to get him into a World Cup match in '98. But my responsibility was not to get everyone playing time. My responsibility was to win the match. I will be the first one to congratulate Jeff Agoos if he plays in the World Cup, which I have every expectation that will happen.''

Agoos' relationship is completely different with Arena, who recruited Agoos from Dallas to play at Virginia, where he became the school's first four-time soccer All-American.

At DC United in Major League Soccer, Arena coached Agoos during the team's first three seasons.

''I haven't gotten rid of Agoos in 20 years,'' the coach said playfully.

Last year, Agoos played in every minute of all 10 World Cup qualifiers, a constant on a team that constantly changed lineups. He was captain of San Jose, leading the team to its first MLS title.

''For about two, three years, he was the most consistent player on the team,'' Friedel said. ''When you've been in the game for as long as he has -- and that's a long time -- you have to respect him. When you've been around that many years, the younger players have to take in everything he says, which is about every other player on the team.''

Agoos laughs at the age cracks, doesn't mind the jabs. While he's passionate and serious on the field, he has a good sense of humor off it. He even jokes about his new home in San Jose, which he bought on April 28 and hasn't even seen since the purchase.

That's OK. The sacrifice is worth it to play in the World Cup. He's been in big games before, and for him ''it's a little bit the same, but it's a little bit different, too.''

''You give everything you have and you don't hold back,'' he said. ''This is not the time you pace yourself for another game.''

Notes: All U.S. players practiced Sunday, the day Arena said he would decide his lineup for Portugal. There was no word what the lineup was or if Arena revealed it to the players. ... Arena on DaMarcus Beasley, listed by FIFA as the lightest player in the World Cup at 126 pounds: ''I call him Gumby. You just have to bend him back into shape. He's down 10 times a game and he's right back up.''



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