In August 1995 Sampson became the national team’s first native-born, full-time manager

After Uruguay, few could deny that Sampson had earned fifa 15 coins his chance at managing the team for good. Yet the USSF offered him the job only begrudgingly, its president perhaps disappointed not to have his ego stroked by a more famous name. ‘As I told Steve, “Suppose the best thing happens and you do phenomenally well. You’ll still have all of a ten-game international career”,’ Rothenberg confided before the Copa.

‘Do we think that is enough to put an awfully huge responsibility on him when there are people who have hundreds of games of international experience?’ His players seemed to think it was, and they helped end the intercontinental talent-hunt.

In August 1995 Sampson became the national team’s first native-born, full-time manager. His route to the top had been unconventional, to say the least. He had never coached or played for a professional club (he had torn up his knee in college) and had been an administrator at the 1984 Olympics and 1994 World Cup. When a reorganisation, induced by FIFA, stripped him of a job – but not a contract – he was hastily assigned to Milutinovic’s staff. Reservations over his appointment as national coach were understandable. The largely self-contained milieu of college soccer in which he had f lourished, while producing swarms of coaches with impressive win-loss records and off ices festooned with awards and certificates, had not made an especially welcome contribution to the sport. Its season was still ridiculously short, and the decision of the NCAA to ban all instances of ‘outside ball’ – playing for club teams, even in the close-season – bordered on the shameful. College soccer still tended to produce dreary, combative teams that prized workrate above all else.

One pleasant exception was the University of Virginia, which by the mid-1990s had become not only the most successful college team in the country, but also one of the most attractive. The typical diagram- plotting American coach would have been unnerved to hear a Virginia player declare, as one did on the eve of the national championship game of 1994: ‘I can’t say we don’t have any tactics, but basically we just go out and play.’

The source of this inspiration, coach Bruce Arena, was an unlikely muse. Much of his career had been divided between keeping goal for Cornell University and playing lacrosse for them, in which he earned national honours. Drafted by the Cosmos in 1973, the Brooklyn-born Arena never played in the NASL and instead joined a professional league in his other sport. When that collapsed he returned to soccer, hooking up with an ASL team in Tacoma, Washington, and coaching at a nearby university. Appointed to head the Virginia programme in 1978, Arena soon moulded the Cavaliers into a stylish soccer power. Future national team mainstays such as John Harkes and Jeff Agoos were kitted out in the school’s orange, which seemed an appropriate ref lection of their manager’s philosophy. ‘If we’re playing well and conf idently,’ Arena claimed, ‘we don’t have positions.’