Football: The curious case of new citizen Regis

Phil Shaw in Washington with the Scots sees parallels with Green Card
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SOON the World Cup finals will be upon us, bringing enough red and yellow cards to paper the walls of the average dressing-room. Scotland's build-up, which culminates in a friendly against the United States in Washington DC on Saturday, find them incorporated into a story reminiscent of the film Green Card. The man cast in the Gerard Depardieu role was David Regis, a Martinique-born Frenchman with an American wife. The 29- year-old defender, who plays for the German club Karlsruhe, was finally sworn in as a US citizen on Wednesday after correctly answering all 10 questions at an oral test in Los Angeles.

Regis, who speaks very little English, is poised to make his international debut against Kuwait at Portland, Oregon, today. Provided he does not put in a calamitous performance in an unorthodox 3-6-1 formation favoured by the US coach, Steve Sampson, he will take the final place in the squad for France 98.

The Americans are taking part in their third finals of the Nineties, a record which many other, more traditional footballing nations, including Scotland, cannot match. Despite the brinkmanship over Regis, what has struck the Scots' manager, Craig Brown, is the familiarity of most of the names on Sampson's roster. John Harkes, the former Premiership player born of Scottish parents, was dropped following a difference of opinion with the coach. Yet the bedrock of experience provided by players like Leicester's Kasey Keller, the goatee-bearded Alexi Lalas and the former Coventry attackers Cobi Jones and Roy Wegerle is otherwise intact.

Three players - Marcelo Balboa, Tab Ramos and Eric Wynalda - will be appearing in their third successive World Cup. Another, the vaunted playmaker Claudio Reyna, pits his wits against Regis in the Bundesliga. The new generation of American soccer players (say football here and people assume you mean the mutant form played by muscle-bound brutes in crash helmets) is most strikingly represented by Eddie Pope.

A number of European clubs are monitoring the progress of the 23-year- old defender from Washington DC United, who would have doubled his 21 caps but for his devotion to obtaining a law degree. An impressive display against the Scots might even provoke a bid from Rangers and a headline to cause coronaries: "Pope for Ibrox."

The apathy of the American media and the sheer vastness of the country, which enables a visiting squad to find a peace and quiet conducive to serious work on the practice pitch, have made the US a regular pre-tournament destination for Scotland.

In 1992, ahead of the European finals in Sweden, Pat Nevin's goal earned victory over an American side still in transition from being a hotch-potch of part-timers and collegians to a full-time force. Perhaps with that incarnation of the US in mind, Brown sent out an experimental line-up at New Britain in the run-up to Euro 96 and suffered a 2-1 defeat.

A curious aspect of both games was that Derek Whyte played for Scotland in each, yet was not called off the bench once during the finals which followed. Shades of the old joke about "What is taken to the FA Cup final, but never used?" To which the answer was Malcolm Macdonald.

Whyte, the former Celtic and Middlesbrough defender who is now with Aberdeen, had gained 11 caps in 11 years before last night's friendly against Colombia. Whether he will make it a hat-trick against the US must be doubtful. Brown wants to play something resembling his strongest side in what is Scotland's last match before they face Brazil on 10 June.

Visitors to the US Soccer Federation's website are promised a "rousing finale" to the Americans' preparations. It may be as well, though, that crowds here sometimes lack an appreciation of the finer arts while cheering clearances into touch. Sampson is fond of calling the US a "blue-collar team", a description not unsuited to their blue-shirted opponents.