Steve Sampson, the target of bitter criticism from U.S. players after they finished dead last at the World Cup, quit Monday as the American national team coach.

The resignation was announced by U.S. Soccer Federation president Alan Rothenberg, who met with Sampson in Paris. The decision to leave was Sampson's and the departure was amicable, a source familiar with the breakfast meeting said."We at the federation thank Steve for his tremendous service to our national team program and to soccer in the USA," Rothenberg said in a statement. "His tireless work has helped advance our sport and on balance it was an era of growth. I compliment him on his many achievements with our team."

Neither Sampson, who was returning to the United States with his wife and son, nor Rothenberg were available for comment.

Sampson was hired as coach in August 1995 and led the U.S. team to a 26-22-14 record, including a 1-0 victory over world-champion Brazil in the Gold Cup in Los Angeles in February.

The U.S. qualified for its third straight World Cup and players and officials openly talked of at least duplicating the performance of 1994, when the Americans reached the second round.

But the team never lived up to those expectations, and was shrouded in controversy even before it arrived in France.

Sampson feuded with players and upset many by leaving longtime captain and field leader John Harkes off the World Cup squad.

Once at the Cup, it quickly became obvious that this U.S. team was not on the same level as the European and Latin American squads it had boasted it would challenge.

It lost its opener to Germany 2-0 in a game it had optimistically hoped to draw, then lost the one game it had to win - against Iran. The 2-1 defeat in Lyon a week ago Sunday sent shock waves through the U.S. soccer community and left the team in a deep funk.

Already eliminated from any chance of advancing, the Americans then lost their finale to Yugoslavia 1-0, finishing 0-3-0 with just one goal - the worst performance of any of the tournament's 32 teams.

Several players, including veterans Alexi Lalas and Tab Ramos, said they would never play for the U.S. team again as long as Sampson was coach. Other players criticized Sampson's tactics and line-ups.

Sampson said he resented the criticism and felt betrayed by players he had tried to accommodate.

"Maybe there's a sense of frustration that international careers are coming to an end and they needed a scapegoat," Sampson said. "It's unfair it was pointed at me, the individual who stuck with them for a long time."

As late as Friday, Sampson said he wanted to stay on and that leaving never crossed his mind. He said he intended to stay in France and watch the rest of the tournament.

"At no point did I consider resigning. I worked too hard for this," he said. "I'm not going to let one or two individuals control my own life."

Rothenberg said in his statement that a "thorough process for hiring a national team coach" would be launched but gave no timetable for naming a successor for Sampson.

"We have a clean blackboard, so to speak," he said.

Rothenberg also said the federation was committed to Project 2010, aimed at a U.S. World Cup championship in the next 12 years.

He said the project was essential, "further underscored by our experience in France '98."