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Jerry’s World

An open letter to Tony DiCicco.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

Jerry’s World

Monday, June 28, 1999

Dear Tony,

Great job with the United States’ first three games. But despite the euphoria by fans, you're in danger of not making it to the semifinals, having the misfortune to draw rugged Germany in the quarterfinals.

No one has ever accused you of being over-confident for any game. And there's certainly no reason to be Thursday.

Our advice: Get Shannon MacMillan in the starting lineup.

She provides offense, and you need it for 90 minutes, not just off the bench, when it may be too late. She is mobile and has the best shot on the team, and her attacking skills need to be fully utilized.

You're not going to get too many chances against the Germans' tall and agile central defense. You need to capitalize on a greater percentage of opportunities.

Who goes to the bench? Tony, that's why they pay you the big bucks to make decisions like this. Certainly not Mia Hamm, who should be well-rested, having sat out 84 of the last 129 minutes of the World Cup.

That leaves Cindy Parlow and Tiffeny Milbrett, the other two forwards. Both are outstanding players, but neither has been consistent in the World Cup -- and neither brings the explosiveness of MacMillan.

Your choice, Tony.

This has been a wonderful, wonderful World Cup - with attendance exceeding even the wildest of expectations. But ultimately, its success rests on the U.S. national team making it to the Rose Bowl, and a win against Germany figures to be difficult.

Get Shannon in the starting lineup. You need the firepower from the start. It was good to see the new faces Sunday night. A big rebuilding job looms after the 2000 Olympics. But the lineup screwed up both the defense and the midfield, especially the latter.

Thank goodness Julie Foudy played the second half. This versatile midfielder sometimes gets lost in the hype surrounding Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly and others -- but Sunday was a testament to her value. She gets loose balls, maintains possession, can sometimes score, and always hustles on defense.

It was wise to rest Michelle Akers, but her importance at defensive midfield was evident through her absence. Don't forget, North Korea almost went ahead, 1-0, in the second half following a near-disastrous U.S. defensive miscue that allowed a breakaway that was botched when the shooter fired right at goalkeeper Briana Scurry.

Then there was the shot that hit the crossbar. And the incredible two-save effort on Jo Jong Ran by Scurry, who stopped the first shot with a kick save, then the rebound -- among the best saves we've seen by anyone in the tournament.

North Korea, playing with a "bunker" defense and a single striker, could have had three goals against the U.S. team, Tony. Which brings up the back line, which also was altered due to Kate Sobrero's ankle injury.

Tony, your decision several months ago to put an untested rookie in the lineup was a brilliant move. She and veteran Carla Overbeck are a good combination in central defense, one offering youth and speed and power, the other experience, craftiness and finesse.

Moving Joy Fawcett to take Sobrero's place and Brandi Chastain to midfield was a good stopgap measure, but it robbed you of the effective two-prong flank attacks they usually generate, an integral part of the sideline-to-sideline U.S. offense.

But we must say you didn't lose much at the wing back position, in particular with newcomer Sara Whalen. She was impressive and deserves serious consideration as a starter -- soon.

Tony, it's hard to find fault with the U.S. team, which is pleasing on and off the field. Bench players don't complain. My goodness, Tisha Venturini and Tiffany Roberts were starters in the 1995 World Cup -- and they're not exactly ready for Medicare at ages 26 and 22, respectively.

MacMillan had the winning goal in the historic sudden-death Olympic semifinal game against Norway in 1996, and is just 24. Yet, no complaints. No sulking. They help lead celebrations from the bench after U.S. goals. They make positive comments to the media when asked about their status.

Contrast that with the petulant behavior of the men's team during and after France '98. You've done a terrific job, Tony, and win or lose, the national team is a treasure.

But winning is much more fun.

Sincerely,
Jerry

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

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