There are questions to answer for U.S. women before 2000 Olympics.By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service
(Tuesday, July 27, 1999) -- The questions are plentiful following the 1999 Women's World Cup triumph by the United States, with the next objective the 2000 Olympics in Australia:
* Will coach Tony DiCicco return? He likes the job, has achieved near-superstar status for his accomplishments, but is concerned about the time spent away from his family.
* Will Michelle Akers be back? She is 33, has no more worlds in soccer to conquer and still has to deal with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. She ranks as the greatest women's player in the history of the sport.
* Will concrete progress be made on a women's professional league, on which the United States Soccer Federation has dragged its feet in 1997? Well-heeled team owners in Major League Soccer are reported to be interested.
DiCicco deserves considerable praise for rebuilding the team from its third-place 1995 World Cup finish -- developing a more diversified attack, realizing the Americans couldn't just depend on physical prowess as they had before. The veteran-laden team likes the way he coaches and communicates, and it is hard to envision a change before the Olympics.
Akers would be difficult to replace. She was the team's top ball-winner in the defensive midfield, and distributed the ball well on offense. Joy Fawcett is a possibility, moving from right back. So might Brandi Chastain be, coming from left back. Both are 31, but that's two years younger than Akers. There is young defensive talent available on the outside, led by Sara Whalen.
The Olympics is expected to be the swansong for Carla Overbeck, one of the central defense mainstays. Her partner, Kate Sobrero, 22, already has made her mark in the back -- and is destined for greatness.
There are other player-type questions:
* Is Aly Wagner, 18, ready for serious consideration in the midfield? She was a late cut in training camp, but impressed in brief international appearances.
* Is Danielle Fotopoulos, 23, going to challenge for playing time on the forward line? The offense sputtered most of the spring, and during the World Cup.
* Where is Cindy Parlow, 21, going to play? She is an excellent header (forward) and ballhandler (midfield). She was slowed most of the spring with a hamstring.
* Will Debbie Keller, 24, ostracized by some after her sexual harassment suit against North Carolina coach Anson Dorrance, get a full tryout for the Olympic squad after getting just a one-week look this year? The Keller situation is problematic. Team chemistry is important, and there is little doubt that many North Carolina players on the Tar Heel-heavy squad were unhappy about the suit.
DiCicco has doubts she would ever progress to be a full-time starter -- despite her 14 goals in 1998 -- and that a chance needed to be given to others (i.e. Fotopoulos). Another possibility: Susan Bush, 18, a late training camp cut.
Development of a professional league ultimately will rest on whether adequate sponsorships are forthcoming from business. Many have forgotten the 1997 efforts of the National Soccer Alliance, which had the support of top U.S. players and developed a business plan it said was designed to have a league in operation in 1998.
U.S. Soccer officials were not enthusiastic, saying it was premature, others feeling it would hurt Major League Soccer development, others that it would detract from the 1999 Women's World Cup, which it saw as the necessary precursor to a new league.
"It wasn't a lack of planning, a lack of financial support, or a lack of support of the players, and we had the interest of TV," NSA spokesperson Jennifer Rottenberg told Amy Shipley of The Washington Post last year. ". . . I felt some tension from (the U.S. Soccer Federation). Actually, some hostility ... I think it was a missed opportunity."
Shipley also reported that Reebok wanted to fund at least half the eight teams but the firm was told that a lesser level of sponsorship was desired to make room for other sponsors. Nike expressed interest early in NSA, but backed away due to its extensive ties with U.S. Soccer.
U.S. Soccer doesn't want to be seen as behind the curve this time. Mark Abbott, chief
operating officer of MLS, is working on a business plan -- in conjunction with U.S. Soccer --
and is optimistic about a women's professional league by 2001. Many share his confidence, but
await details being developed the next year.
Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at
Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.