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Jerry's World

More than law suit keeps Keller from women’s training camp.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Friday, January 8, 1999) -- The omission of Debbie Keller, 23, from the United States women's soccer team training camp has drawn comment from some quarters.

She is involved in a sexual harassment suit against legendary North Carolina coach Anson Dorrance, who has denied guilt and received heavy support from the Tar Heel soccer community. Ten players practicing at the Orlando facility are current or past North Carolina players.

What's working against Keller:

* Lack of versatility.
* An awesome group of veteran forwards already on the team.
* A desire to test new faces.

Coach Tony DiCicco says the lawsuit was not a factor in her not being among the 26 players invited to camp, that he is "just trying" to put together a team that can win. Many of the players are skilled at playing different positions, which is essential with the multiple formations used by the Americans -- as well as if injuries occur.

Keller, 23, is strictly a forward. She has been a solid goal-scorer -- 18 in 46 appearances -- with splendid finishing abilities off loose balls in the penalty box area. The All-Star front line, however, includes superstars Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly and budding superstar Tiffeny Milbrett -- all of whom can score and create. That's an awesome trio.

Top backups? Shannon MacMillan and Cindy Parlow. That's five players who likely would be ahead of Keller for duty at forward. Furthermore, the latter two are strong midfielders as well -- as is Lilly.

Let's now throw in Danielle Fotopoulos, the all-time collegiate scoring leader who paced unsung Florida to the NCAA championship this year. She is very powerful, but lacks polish -- and deserves the chance Keller got on the 1995 World Cup team to prove herself. She has star potential.

That's six roster slots.

The midfield includes Julie Foudy in the center, paired with Brandi Chastain and Michelle Akers. The latter two also can play defense and forward, respectively. Backups? Tisha Venturini would start on practically any team in the world, and still might regain her slot. MacMillan started in 1996 at midfield. Parlow, as mentioned, also is a midfielder, regarded by some as the next U.S. superstar.

Laurie Schwoy is a promising young player who figures to start sometime -- perhaps after the 2000 Olympics, maybe sooner.

That's five more roster slots.

Joy Fawcett and Carla Overbeck are star veteran defenders, along with newcomers Kate Sobrero, Lorrie Fair and Christie Pearce. Don't forget Tiffany Roberts, a veteran of the 1995 World Cup and the 1996 Olympics, a tenacious marker.

The position is a concern for DiCicco in the future -- due to Fawcett and Overbeck both being 31 by the time this year's World Cup is played -- and he is hopeful Sara Whalen and/or Jen Grubb can develop into reliable defenders.

That's eight more roster slots.

And then there will be three goalies on the roster, picked from the four in camp, led by starter Briana Scurry. That adds up to 22 roster spots; FIFA is considering raising the squad limit from 20 to 22.

Plus DiCicco would like to save some spots on the roster -- possibly the final three or four -- for young developmental players who wouldn't play but would gain valuable experience. That's the reason for the presence in camp of teen-aged phenoms Susan Bush and Aly Wagner.

The core of this team has been around since the World Cup triumph in 1991; a massive rebuilding with young talent soon will be necessary. Steve Sampson said he wanted to do that on the men's side, but he didn't -- instead keeping some benchwarming veterans who wound up griping about their status.

Getting back to Keller's status, though. We think at some point she should be invited to training camp for a full-fledged shot; 18 goals in 46 appearances, many of them not starts, deserve that consideration. If the other forwards are healthy and at the top of their games, she probably won't make the final cut. But if not, she's a scrappy goal-scorer who could be valuable coming off the bench -- regardless of any "non-factor" lawsuit.

Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at jlangdon@gns.gannett.com.

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