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WNYC Studios announces American Fiasco, a twelve-episode series about the US soccer team's World Cup meltdown in 1998

PRESS RELEASE — May 31, 2018

New York NY, USA—Today, WNYC Studios and Roger Bennett of the widely successful sports show Men in Blazers announce American Fiasco — a 12-episode podcast series chronicling the U.S. men’s soccer team and their legendarily disastrous bid to win the 1998 World Cup — a universal, human story that is part underdog, part Icarus, part Rocky meets Apocalypse Now.

After the giddy success of the 1994 World Cup played on home soil, the ambitious U.S. Men’s National Team swaggered back onto the international stage, slayed some of soccer’s biggest giants, and began to believe they could do the one thing that comes most naturally to Americans: win it all. But by the time the 1998 World Cup rolled around, a squad that had embraced most of the seven deadly sins was beaten by their toughest opponent: themselves.

Debuting Monday, June 4, AMERICAN FIASCO will take listeners through the rollicking true tale of how hubris, inexperience, and infighting led to the collapse of the ‘98 team — from the blinding egotism of “American exceptionalism” to a personal betrayal that severed a relationship between teammates. The series will feature archival audio and fresh interviews with key characters, including players Alexi Lalas and Eric Wynalda, former head coach Steve Sampson, U.S. soccer officials, sports journalists, and more. Also included are bonus episodes with Big Cat (Dan Katz) of Barstool Sports and Stephen Dubner of Freakonomics Radio, who join host Roger Bennett for one-on-one discussions about soccer’s shaky history in the U.S., how a Liverpudlian like Roger became so obsessed with American soccer culture, and how the failure in ‘98 still reverberates 20 years later.

“In the lead up to the 2018 World Cup, we’re revisiting the story of one of the most heartbreaking, self-inflicted defeats in sports history,” said Emily Botein, Vice President of On-Demand Content, WNYC Studios. “We’re thrilled to partner with Roger Bennett, whose absorbing interviews and storytelling unveil the story you didn’t know. AMERICAN FIASCO is a fascinating case study for sports enthusiasts, history buffs, and podcast lovers alike.”

“I’ve been waiting 20 years to dive into this epic, untold story. It combines my two greatest passions: soccer and America,” said Bennett, a Liverpool-born American citizen who grew up worshipping Michael Jordan, John Hughes movies, and TV imports like The Love Boat and Starsky & Hutch. “AMERICAN FIASCO is set in a time, not so long ago, when American soccer was truly lost in the wilderness. Then came a World Cup played on American soil, which nurtured a team of telegenic, cocksure American players, which in turn begat the rather American conviction that the U.S. could, in four years’ time, become a Dark Horse threat at the next World Cup.”

Bennett added: “I’m going to spoil the ending for you right now. The U.S. did not win the World Cup in 1998. But how they didn’t win the World Cup will be one of the most absorbing stories you’ll hear in a podcast this year — whether you love soccer or not — because it transcends sports to reveal who we are as human beings, propelled by ambition, love, vanity, friendship, and, above all, self-interest. Ultimately what attracted me to this story is the same thing that attracted me to move to this country: The American Dream. A dream, which as this podcast makes clear, sadly does not extend to World Cup Football.”

AMERICAN FIASCO will release its first six episodes on Monday, June 4 on FiascoPodcast.com, Apple Podcasts, Pocket Casts, and all other places where podcasts may be downloaded. The remaining six episodes will follow on Monday, June 11.

Episode Descriptions are as follows:

Episode 1: “The Dream (On) Team”

At the end of the Dark Age of Soccer in the United States, when the world’s favorite sport was a punchline, there came a ray of light: The U.S. was chosen to host the 1994 World Cup. Roger introduces the underdog American team and its Star Wars cantina of characters, as they take center stage at soccer’s biggest event.

Episode 2: “Steve”

Meet Steve Sampson: the all-American regular guy who was plucked from obscurity to become interim head coach of the national squad. From living on a couch to leading the U.S. into battle, how an unlikely placeholder coach with no international experience proved his mettle by crushing the team’s longtime rival.

Episode 3: “We’ll Always Have Paysandu”

What do you get when you put 22 soccer players on a plane headed to South America? A labor standoff with their bosses, and a team turning into a band of brothers. Plus: expectations soar after the 1995 Copa América and an encounter with Argentinian soccer god Diego Maradona.

Bonus Episode with Big Cat (Dan Katz) of Barstool Sports

Does soccer deserve our love? If there’s one person host Roger Bennett has to convince, it’s Dan “Big Cat” Katz of Barstool Sports. The self-described “epitome of the American sports fan” argues, “What’s more American than hating soccer?”

Episode 4: “Decisions, Decisions”

Soccer’s version of Survivor begins as the U.S. national team struggles to qualify for the 1998 World Cup. Rivalries heat up as players jockey for starting spots on the final squad, and attitudes sour toward the head coach. Plus: a sudden end for the team’s captain.

Episode 5: “Captain for Life”

Two months before the 1998 World Cup, captain John Harkes is abruptly kicked off the national team. The reason for Harkes’ departure is kept under wraps. Twenty years later, the team opens up about what really happened.

Episode 6: “Final Roster”

With the U.S. set to face three-time World Cup champion Germany in its first game, coach Steve Sampson tinkers with on-field strategy and makes seismic changes to the team’s lineup. Plus: Jeff Agoos relives a nightmare from the 1994 World Cup.

Episode 7: “The Chateau”

The U.S. national team finally arrives at the World Cup in France. All the team has to do is relax in a beautiful chateau surrounded by vineyards. But this isolated paradise soon turns into a prison.

Bonus Episode with Stephen Dubner of Freakonomics Radio

Roger is joined by one of the Americans fighting for the love of soccer, Freakonomics Radio’s Stephen Dubner. They talk about the upcoming 2018 World Cup, the prospects for the current American team, and Roger’s fascination with the 1998 story.

Episode 8: “The World Cup Begins”

In their first game of the 1998 World Cup, the U.S. faces one of the best teams on earth: Germany. The veteran players roast their coach in the press. At a heated team meeting that follows, the team’s unity is shaken to its core.

Episode 9: “The World Cup Ends”

Alexi Lalas makes a promise to his coach that he can’t keep. The U.S. team prepares to play one of the most politically charged World Cup games of all time against Iran in its second match of the tournament. It begins with a carefully negotiated show of friendship between the teams. The decisions that follow, both on and off the field, will haunt the team for 20 years.

Episode 10: “Injury Time”

In the conclusion of the series, coach Steve Sampson meets his fate. Roger talks with the team about the aftermath of the 1998 World Cup and the legacy of this American Fiasco.

Press release from WNYC Studios - this is reprinted verbatim; we rewrite headlines and descriptions. Press releases can be sent to updates@podnews.net

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