Brian McBride doesn't believe the coach was the reason the United States lost all three of its World Cup games.

The lone goal scorer for the U.S. team has a simpler explanation: They were beaten by good teams."We weren't playing against slouches." McBride said of the three-game, three-loss exit from the biggest stage in soccer.

McBride is one of four members of Major League Soccer's Columbus Crew who were selected to play for the U.S. team. All four returned to Columbus Tuesday to begin preparations for the Crew's game Friday at San Jose.

Sampson, the first American-born coach of a U.S. World Cup team, was forced out on Monday in the wake of the team's last-place finish in the 32-team field.

Although none of the four said they believe Sampson did a great job, none said much would have changed with a different coach.

Thomas Dooley, the U.S. team captain, said the teams were more difficult this year than those the team played in 1994, when it advanced to the second round.

This year, the U.S. team lost to Germany 2-0, Iran 2-1 and 1-0 to Yugoslavia.

"I look at it as a whole. It was everybody's fault, not one person," McBride said.

"The little mistakes are what cost us dearly," backup goalkeeper Juergen Sommer said.

Midfielder Brian Maisonneuve said part of the problem was that the U.S. players were too timid.

"I'd like to have the first half of the Germany game back," he said. "We didn't play poorly - we just gave them too much respect. If we could have that back, it could have been an entirely different World Cup."

When a youth-league player asked about Sampson's controversial 3-6-1 alignment, McBride said it was not a configuration that caused the loss to Germany.

"In the second half, it worked a lot better because we got our ears chewed off and decided to play soccer," he said.

"We could have played a 9-9-18," Dooley said. "The difference between teams is not that big. I still believe we came closer to Germany than a lot of teams."

Dooley said the complaints from some players were distracting.

"It was very difficult," he said. "After the first game, there were some comments in the paper, so I had a lot of meetings with Steve and I had a lot of meetings with some of the other players. I had some conversations with the players who made the comments. You couldn't change it. They're old enough to know what to do."

Forward Eric Wynalda, midfielder Tab Ramos and defenders Alexi Lalas and Jeff Agoos have criticized Sampson's strategy, handling of personnel and player rotation.

A coach at Santa Clara before working as an executive with the U.S. organizers of the 1994 World Cup, Sampson was derided because he was not a veteran coach.

Wynalda said, "We were naive to think an inexperienced coach would see the value of experienced players."

Ramos called the entire U.S. World Cup enterprise "a mess."

Agoos saw more action than any U.S. player in World Cup qualifying, yet he and Lalas didn't play a minute in competition.