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Jerry's World

Omission of Keller surprises no one.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Monday, May 17, 1999) -- To the surprise of no one, Debbie Keller was not selected for the United States team roster for the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup.

She angered many in the soccer community with the controversial sexual harassment suit she and former University of North Carolina teammate and reserve goalkeeper Melissa Jennings filed last summer against legendary Tar Heels coach Anson Dorrance.

Despite scoring 14 goals last year, the forward made only a one-week appearance in training camp this spring. She complained she was being kept off the team due to the lawsuit.

Coach Tony DiCicco denied that was the reason, and a suit brought by Keller against the U.S. Soccer Federation to get her into training camp was thrown out. But some observers felt his top priority in the matter was to maintain morale and not cause divisiveness on the team, which has eight past or current North Carolina players.

Ironically, the main problem for the United States in matches leading up to the World Cup has been failure to convert scoring opportunities. DiCicco first had Kristine Lilly move from left midfield -- where she generally was acknowledged as the best in the world -- to a central forward position so she could be more involved in the offense.

The other strikers in the three-forward offense were Mia Hamm, the all-time U.S. scoring leader who frequently drew double-teams, and Tiffeny Milbrett, who developed into a standout performer after playing professionally in Japan.

The alignment sputtered.

The reason? Perhaps size, or lack thereof. Hamm is the tallest, at 5-5. Lilly is next at 5-4, and Milbrett is a miniscule 5-2. All are in the 125-130-pound range -- hardly the prototype target player.

DiCicco, though, had a pair of bigger forwards in abeyance, 20-year-old Cindy Parlow (5-11, 145) and 23-year-old Danielle Fotopoulos (5-11, 165). He moved Lilly back to midfield, where she has been brilliant, and went up front with the versatile and experienced Parlow, whose development was slowed for several months by a hamstring.

Keller, a 24-year-old forward (listed as 5-4, 135 in the 1998 media guide, not listed in '99), tied for second among U.S. goal-scorers in '98 (she also had two assists), starting seven games, subbing in 16 others -- for a total of 955 minutes.

Milbrett, who also had 14 goals (and nine assists), started 19 games and played 1,377 minutes. The top scorer was Hamm with 20 goals and 20 assists in 21 starts comprising 1,576 minutes.

Most of Keller's goals came against weak opposition, but the same was true about Milbrett. Both scored just twice against top opponents China, Brazil, Norway, Germany, Denmark and Sweden -- while Hamm had 12 goals against these elite teams.

Milbrett's goals came against countries the United States beat by a combined 55-1. Keller's goals came against opposition the Americans beat by a combined 47-2, but included three goals in 2-1 and 2-0 wins in Japan.

DiCicco early in the spring expressed pleasure with his six-deep group of forwards -- Hamm, Lilly, Milbrett, Shannon MacMillan, Parlow and Fotopoulos -- but Lilly since was moved, and MacMillan has appeared frequently in midfield as well when the United States goes to a four-midfield lineup.

Fotopoulos, awkward at times, has the physical presence to create and score one-on-one but lacks international experience, just 202 minutes' total from 1996-98.

Keller, with 46 international appearances, including scoring a goal in the 1995 World Cup in Sweden, is not creative but has a sense loose balls in the penalty box area and converting them. She played professionally in Denmark in May.

DiCicco's position is that she had not established herself as a starter and that other young players needed to be considered for the 20-player roster announced Monday.

The men's team had a more controversial omission leading up to the 1998 World Cup in France, when Coach Steve Sampson dropped captain/midfielder John Harkes. And Coach Bora Milutinovic raised eyebrows in 1994 by dropping 1990 World Cup defender Desmond Armstrong.

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

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