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Jerry’s World

Competitive U.S. women show Americans how sports should be played.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Friday, July 2, 1999) -- Much of America is captivated with this personable, competitive, attractive, competitive, courageous, competitive, enterprising, competitive, dynamic, competitive, creative, and extremely competitive United States women's soccer team during the stupendously successful 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup -- watching them "play" in record numbers.

Did we use the descriptive term "competitive" too much?

Whatever, people are getting acquainted with a group that soccer fans have been aware of for some time. The core of the U.S. team has been around since 1991, when the Americans won the first Women's World Cup in China. In fact seven current starters played key roles in that historic event.

They were vital in leading the United States to Olympic crown in 1996. But that achievement was buried due to the large number of individual and team successes in Atlanta and NBC’s refusal to broadcast soccer. And, incredibly, it was even overshadowed in the media by the women's victories in basketball and softball.

The stage now solely belongs with this U.S. aggregation, and what a joyous moment this is. Especially following the heroic performance yesterday against Germany, in which all the qualities that many find so endearing on this team were on display. And let's not forget the pressure. If the United States doesn't win this game, the rest of the tournament loses steam. No doubt about it. This group of incredible athletes and people weren't going to let that happen.

"Guts," coach Tony DiCicco said of the Americans who rallied from behind twice to win against a team that, given normal seeding, should be in the semifinals.

Personality: Brandi Chastain knocks in an own goal early in the match, injures her right ankle, then scores to tie the game 2-2 in the second half with an acrobatic shot.

Team: Yes, this is a squad that has acknowledged superstars in Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, and Michelle Akers. But the names paramount against Germany were Tiffeny Milbrett (first goal), Joy Fawcett (winning goal), and Shannon MacMillan (assist on winning goal). And Chastain, of course.

Competitive: "We don't get scared, we don't get nervous," Fawcett said when asked about pressure with the Germans taking two leads. "This is our dream. We will do anything to realize our dream."

Hamm was succinct in her message to teammates before taking the field at the start of the second half: "What are we afraid of here? Let's go after it."

Depth (1): DiCicco was under some media pressure to start MacMillan, hero of the 1996 Olympics and brilliant in her lone start Sunday against North Korea. But he prefers to bring the offensive powerhouse off the bench. She came in during the 65th minute, game tied, and seconds later placed a perfect corner kick to Fawcett, who headed in the winning goal.

Tony, we still think she should start, but we aren't going to debate with someone whose every move has paid off so far.

Depth (2): "We don't lose anything by going to our bench. In fact, we get fresh legs . . . " That's the mantra recited again and again by coaches and players to skeptics who do see a difference between starters and non-starters. DiCicco believes it, though, inserting 20-year-old reserve defender Lorrie Fair in the lineup midway in the second half, and she did well.

We don't want to get into the sociological impact or the fulfillment of Title IX or whether this will lead to a much-needed professional league -- all of which is important. But we do know that this team has qualities that many sports teams lack -- its players hustle after every ball, its players don't whine, its players pay attention to fans -- that we should be grateful for, and that besides "being good people," to quote goalkeeper Briana Scurry, can rival Michael Jordan on the playing field for competitiveness.

And he's retired. Mia Hamm & Co. aren't.

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

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