John Terry and England may be making headlines now, but only because the sloppy American media missed a big one: John Harkes was dropped from the 1998 World Cup squad because he was having an affair with Eric Wynalda's wife.
It's been an urban legend that surrounded US Soccer for years. Harkes was two-time captain of the American side, but was dropped by coach Steve Sampson from the roster just two months before the '98 tourney kicked off. The company line was that Harkes refused a position change, though Sampson alluded to nebulous "leadership issues."
There has always been the speculation of the affair. But Wynalda confirmed it last night on his Fox Soccer Channel show, comparing it to Terry and Wayne Bridge's falling out.
There's a lot of similarities between what happened to us in '98 and what's happening now to England. It's an unfortunate time for England, because I know how that can affect a team firsthand. Obviously, we all know how we did in the World Cup in '98."
Harkes refused to comment, saying he's put it all behind him. But Sampson was quick to defend his choice to keep the matter out of the papers.
I felt that these are the kinds of issues that need to stay in the locker room and within the team and not (be) exposed to the public," Sampson said. "The private issues for me were the most serious issues. I think I could have lived with everything else and kept John on the team if it had not been for the private issues. It's one thing to have an affair outside the team. It's another to have one inside. ... There are just certain lines that one cannot cross."
Harkes and Wynalda have moved on, reconciling in 2005. Harkes is still with his wife. But now we've got someone to blame for that last place finish in France.