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MacMillan turns up heat on DiCicco with strong play off bench.

By Tim Nash
Special to SoccerTimes

Shannon MacMillan LANDOVER, Md. (Friday, July 2, 1999) -- Shannon MacMillan understands her role, but she's determined to make it difficult for her coach to keep her in that role.

MacMillan went to United States head coach Tony DiCicco before yesterday’s quarterfinal game with Germany and told him she knew the press was giving him a hard time about not starting her. MacMillan, who has provided instant offense off the bench in all four of the American Women's World Cup matches, told her coach not to worry about it.

"I told him I understood that the media was after him to start me, and they're asking me about all the time, too," MacMillan said after driving a corner kick to Joy Fawcett for the winning goal to send the Americans to the semis against Brazil. "I know the heat's on him, but I wanted him to know I'm ready to do whatever he wants me to do. But that doesn't mean I'm not going to keep the heat on him."

In fact, she turned the heat up a notch. After a sluggish first half - which saw U.S. defender Brandi Chastain score on her own team in and what DiCicco termed "not a pretty half," MacMillan entered a 2-2 tie in the 65th minute just prior to a U.S. corner kick. She sprinted across the field hoping to take the corner. "Tiff (Milbrett) said, ‘It's all yours. You have the fresh legs,’ " MacMillan explained. Her fresh legs made all the difference. But she prepared herself for the moment she entered the game.

During her first hour on the bench, MacMillan did not sit idly, counting Mia Hamm jerseys in the crowd. She looked for tendencies and watched how Germany set up to defend corners. She noticed that on corners when Hamm made a run through the box, German defenders would follow, leaving the near post vacant. Literally seconds after entering the match, she hit the corner to the spot she noticed earlier -- a screaming line drive to the near post that Joy Fawcett nodded into the goal for the game-winner.

"I saw Joy, and I tried not to give away what I was going to do," MacMillan said.

"I knew Shannon was going to put it to the near post," said Fawcett. "She hits it so hard you really don't have to do much with it. I just wanted to get me head on it."

"Think about what she did," said DiCicco. "She hadn't even kicked a ball yet and she hits a perfect corner kick."

MacMillan has a history of making big plays for the U.S. In the 1996 Olympics, DiCicco put her in the game during sudden-death overtime, and it took her less than four minutes to end the game with the "golden goal" and send the U.S. into the gold medal match. And in the American's final first-round game of this World Cup, she scored the first goal and assisted on the next two to help the U.S. to a 3-0 win over North Korea.

DiCicco has learned to expect the unexpected from MacMillan, "She's made me look good several times," he said.

Actually, she made him look bad once, too. While preparing for the '96 Olympics, DiCicco cut MacMillan from residency training camp. Fresh off her senior season at the University of Portland where she was the consensus national collegiate player of the year, MacMillan left camp in tears, but vowed to make it back.

A month later, she earned another shot with the national team. She made a position switch from forward to midfield, because that's where DiCicco said she was needed. A year later, DiCicco said, "I made a huge mistake in 1995. I cut Shannon MacMillan."

Now, MacMillan finds herself in a situation that at times is perfect and at other times extremely difficult. "I go to practice every day to win a starting job," she said. "But I'll do whatever is needed of me . . . start, sit, or come off the bench."

Coming off the bench seems to work just fine. Her immediate impact on the quarterfinal match with Germany was impressive and goes to further her status as cult hero for the community of young soccer fans that has taken to the U.S. team. But setting up Fawcett for the winning goal had a special meaning for two little girls watching intently. MacMillan has emerged as the favorite "aunt" of Fawcett's two children, five-year-old Katey and two-year-old Carli.

Some players, including Fawcett, say Joy had three children - Katey, Carli and MacMillan. Roommates for the past six months in residency training in Orlando, Fawcett and MacMillan were unsure which would impress the two children most -- that their mom scored the game-winner, or that "Mackie" assisted on the goal.

"Good question," laughed Fawcett. "They'll probably be happy that I scored, but every time they come visit me, they ask to go see Mac."

"I'll have to be politically correct and say they'll be happier Joy scored," MacMillan smiled, learning a great deal about saying the right things. "But every time they come see us, they hug Joy and say, "Where's Mackie?"

When the U.S. meets Brazil in the semifinals on Sunday in Palo Alto, Calif., if anyone wants to know "Where Mackie is", she'll probably be coming off the bench to provide instant offense.

Tim Nash is editor of College Soccer Weekly and can be e-mailed at tim@collegesoccer.com.

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