(Berkeley, California) 17 March 1998 -- Opportunity knocks for the 28 players heading to Spain and Portugal, US National Team General Manager Jack Clark said in announcing the tour squad today.
Just weeks away from the start of the Pacific Rim season, the US has chosen a team featuring six hopefuls with no test match experience. In all, 16 players have five or fewer caps.
A handful of proven veterans--hooker Tom Billups, backrower Jason Walker, halfback Andre Bachelet, center Mark Scharrenberg, wing Vaea Anitoni, and a few others--have been selected to lend stability, while the rest of the squad consists of players trying to solidify their international claims. In the absence of injured backrower Dan Lyle, the US plans to announce a tour captain next week.
Prop Todd Giuntini, flanker David Care, fullback Andre Blom head up the list of younger, untested players. Those trying to build on strong performances at the Inter-Territorial Tournament or come back from injury include hooker Mas Morimoto, number eight Rob Lumkong, center Juan Grobler, and wing Dan Kennedy.
Besides Lyle, wing Brian Hightower, center Ray Green, and number eight Fili Lamenta were also ruled out because of injuries, the latter three all hurting themselves within the last week.
The April trip includes a match against North of Portugal and tests against Portugal and Spain, both still in the hunt for a World Cup berth. But the US hasn't chosen its best squad to face the up-and-coming Europeans, or even chosen with an eye to player compatibility. "This could leave us vulnerable," Clark admitted. "Typically you pick a team with regard to blends of experience and combinations.
"That's not what we've done here. We've clearly placed the onus on the individual, and for some it's time to prove without question that they can perform at the international level." The Portuguese test is set for Lisbon, and the Spanish test has now been confirmed for El Puerto de Santa Maria, not far from the prominent southwestern city of Cadiz.
Separately, the US today confirmed that a planned fitness camp has been shelved because the National Team's player pool was expanded and because of scheduling conflicts with club matches. Management had previously informed the player pool of finalized 1998 assembly dates. At the behest of the Selection Advisory Panel, the US player pool reached 65 to accommodate and track younger, "developmental" players. Meanwhile, the National Team will be assembled for over 100 days in the next five months.
United States to Portugal and Spain
Forwards: John McBride, Todd Giuntini, Ray Lehner, Tim Kluempers,
Tom Billups, Mas Morimoto, Alec Parker, Luke Gross, Dave Hodges, Bo Buck,
Richard Tardits, Mika McLeod, Rob Lumkong, Jason Walker, David Care.
Backs: Andre Bachelet, Kevin Dalzell, Matt Alexander, Kurt Shuman, Mark Scharrenberg, Alatini Saulala, Tom Takau, Juan Grobler, Dan Kennedy, Vaea Anitoni, Rich Shurfeld, Chris Morrow, Andre Blom.