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Jerry's World

U.S. women’s attack, loaded with talent, must solve scoring slump.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Monday, March 1, 1999) -- Early in the second half against Finland Saturday, the front line for the United States national women's team consisted of Shannon MacMillan, Cindy Parlow, and Danielle Fotopoulos. That's an awesome trio, at least on paper.

MacMillan, the No. 1 college player in 1995, was the top U.S. scorer on the Olympic-winning team in 1996. Parlow was the No. 1 college player in 1997. And Fotopoulos is the all-time collegiate scoring leader, and the No. 1 college player in 1998. But they're all substitutes on the national team.

The first-string forwards are an even more awe-inspiring trio -- scoring aces Mia Hamm and Tiffeny Milbrett as well as playmaker Kristine Lilly. Six truly outstanding players, but there's a problem: the United States is not scoring, not finishing off chances.

Why?

Is it the change in offense, with one more forward (three) and one less midfielder (three)? That usually means four defenders guarding the American forwards, clogging up the goal area. Have there been too many position switches? Is it the fault of the midfield? Should Kristine Lilly be at forward, or back at her normal left midfield slot?

Are the Americans too stubborn in trying to go up the middle against stacked defenses? Should Brandi Chastain, though effective at midfield, return to defense? Is the self-critical superstar Hamm in a rare slump? Are there enough options in the box area once the ball is sent there from the flank?

Does the lack of punch really mean anything at this point, with the World Cup still more than three months away?

Coach Tony DiCicco has to be concerned about the lack of good chances, lack of finishing in the normally aggressive U.S. attack. And now into the equation this week comes Debbie Keller, still another forward, whom many believe was the No. 1 college player in 1996, a proven goal-scorer on the national team. But the situation has gotten ugly.

She and a former teammate filed a sexual harassment suit against legendary North Carolina coach Anson Dorrance last summer, angering many in the Tar Heel soccer community. There are 10 former and present UNC players at the national team residency camp.

Keller has not been present -- until this week. DiCicco had said earlier she would be given an opportunity, but the timing of her camp invitation -- coming within a few days of her Washington law firm filing for arbitration to put her back on the national team roster -- was criticized as a "thinly-veiled litigation tactic designed to camouflage the retaliation against Ms. Keller," by attorney Dane E. Butswinkas.

"The reason she was not (initially) invited didn't have anything to do with chemistry (or the law suit)," the coach said. "It's about where we think she is with her game, where we think it will be down the road . . . She had 45 caps, and she hadn't established herself as a starter. At this point we have to look at what about (giving) . . . some of these other younger players this same opportunity."

DiCicco is right when he says Keller has not attained regular first-string status, but who would against the likes of Hamm, Lilly, Milbrett, Parlow, MacMillan, etc.? She is not a creative player, but an opportunist, a spark who feasts on loose balls in the box.

Maybe that's something the U.S. team needs off the bench.

Morale problems?

That's a likelihood, and none other than Anson Dorrance stresses how important it is for a women's team to have harmony. It's up to DiCicco, but more importantly the veteran leadership on this squad, that Keller not be isolated and that she be given a fair chance to make the final roster.

That's called professionalism.

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

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