Soccer Affairs: They Can, In Fact, Ruin World Cup Runs

Hey soccer fans, remember this great moment in American history?
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↵It turns out, it was all John Harkes's fault! No, Harkes wasn't on the pitch when the USMNT lost to Iran in the 1998 World Cup, or when they lost to Germany six days earlier or Yugoslavia four days later. Harkes wasn't even on the roster that scored just one goal in three World Cup matches in 1998, finishing last in the field. But it was all his fault anyway. ↵

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↵⇥Breaking more than a decade of silence, former U.S. coach Steve Sampson says he dropped John Harkes two months before the 1998 World Cup because the captain was having an affair with the wife of teammate Eric Wynalda.

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↵⇥Harkes has long denied having an affair with Amy Wynalda. Wynalda brought up the situation late Monday during a discussion on "Fox Football Fone-In" about the scandal in England over an alleged relationship between England captain John Terry and the former partner of Wayne Bridge, his teammate on the national squad. ↵⇥

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↵⇥Sampson told The Associated Press on Tuesday he was glad the story was coming out now because "maybe people will have a little better of an understanding of what happened in the final months leading up to the World Cup." ↵⇥

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↵See, don't blame it on Sampson, or the completely overmatched U.S. squad. There was internal strife that we didn't know about and that was the reason the team underperformed in France. ↵ ↵

↵Clearly, Wynalda has been biding his time to say something about this, and you have to give the guy credit for not only holding this in for the last 12 years, but also using it as a personal, yet entirely appropriate, point of reference with the John Terry situation. ↵

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↵⇥"I'm calling it an inappropriate relationship. It was a major contributor to why I'm no longer married," said Wynalda, a father of three who separated from his wife in 2003 and then divorced. 
I've suffered quite a bit through this whole process. My healing is over, so I'm OK to talk about it." ↵
↵It should be noted that both Wynalda and Harkes will be covering the 2010 World Cup, and that Wynalda is also writing a book. I think we just read chapter one. And of course, Harkes told the AP that 1998 was "devastating to me and my family," which isn't an admission of guilt, but isn't exactly a ringing endorsement for innocence either. ↵

↵As for Sampson, he's using this as a complete and utter deflection from the real reason the team struggled in France; they simply weren't good enough. Could a lack of focus have been caused by an internal strife between Harkes and Wynalda that fractured the team? Could the presence of Harkes on the field during the World Cup – a 31-year old midfielder who refused to take on a defensive role – have changed the fortunes of U.S. Soccer that much? Sure, both scenarios are possible. Another possible scenario is that the team was just not prepared enough, nor well coached enough, and Sampson is using this news as a 12-year old scapegoat. ↵

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↵As Wynalda points out, and Andy Hutchins mentioned in his post on Terry's situation this weekend, losing the captaincy over a situation like this is not out of the realm of possiblity. To learn Harkes was kicked off the 1998 team for this – without the pregnancy and abortion scenarios – leaves one to wonder if England's 2010 squad is made of tougher stuff. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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