Parlow waited patiently and now itís her turn.By Tim Nash
Gannett News Service
CHICAGO (Tuesday, June 22, 1999) -- Growing up in Memphis, Tenn., Cindy Parlow held down a roster spot in backyard football games with her older brothers and their friends.
It would not be completely accurate to say that little Cindy actually played in the games. The quarterback seemed to always give her the same stay-out-of-the-way instructions -- "Go deep!" Play after play, day after day, Cindy did what she was told. She went deep.
The ball, however, never ventured in her direction. She was never the intended receiver, hardly ever part of the game plan. She was, after all, "The Girl." Still, she diligently ran her route over and over. She waved her arms and screamed the obvious -- "I'm open!" All she wanted was the chance to prove to the boys that she could get the job done.
Each day, though, it appeared less and less likely she would ever see the football tossed in her direction. Then one day in a moment of desperation, the quarterback, scurrying around the backfield to avoid a sack, gave up and heaved the ball to The Girl. With much more than her sandlot football career at stake, Cindy ran under the pass, grabbed the ball and ran for the end zone.
Touchdown . . . mission accomplished. She proved herself and was accepted as an athlete, something she would do over and over in the years to come. Now, her brothers and parents are watching from the stands as she chases a World Cup. Her United States teammates have nicknamed her C.P., obviously for her initials. But lately, Parlow has to be wondering if the "C" doesn't stand for crossbars, and the "P" for posts.
"I have been a bit unlucky lately," the gifted 21-year-old forward\midfielder said after the 3-0 win against Denmark in the opening game of the 1999 Women's World Cup. "All week in practice, I was hitting crossbars and posts. It's become a joke with the team."
But the 5-foot-11, 145-pound Parlow is not the type to worry about a scoring slump. She wants to make sure she does her job. "It doesn't matter if it's 9-0 or 1-0," she said. "As long as we win."
Against Denmark, the two-time national collegiate player of the year at North Carolina, had four solid chances at goals. Her best opportunity came from eight yards but the shot was tipped by goalkeeper Dorthe Larsen's toe and clunked off the right goal post in the 25th minute.
Parlow, who was the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic championship team in 1996 (where she was a reserve) at the age of 17, is considered by many to be the U.S.'s next great player. Strong both in the air and with her feet, she can play both center forward, where she is most of the time, or at central midfield, where she switches with Kristine Lilly when Coach Tony DiCicco wants a change of pace.
She did her apprentice work in '96 studying under Mia Hamm, Tiffeny Milbrett, Michelle Akers and the now-retired Carin Gabarra, a dazzling dribbler and the MVP of the 1991 Women's World Cup. "Cindy is a cross between Michelle and Carin," said Anson Dorrance, who coached Akers and Gabarra with the national team and Parlow at UNC. "She is physically intimidating like Michelle, and she can hold players off with her strength. But she has the deception and one-v-one ability like Carin."
Parlow joined the Tar Heel program as a 17-year-old in 1995. She decided to graduate high school a year early and enter college juggernaut North Carolina - thinking that might improve her game and help her make the Olympic team.
"It was in and out of my head for a while, but I finally decided when I was watching on TV when North Carolina won the (1994) national championship," she said. "I was thinking 'I want to be there . . . I want to be a part of that.' That was what I wanted to do. But I still didn't do anything about it. I mentioned it to my parents, and they told me it was my decision. When I finally told them I wanted to do it, they said, 'Well, go call Anson.' But I was too afraid and asked them to call him for me. They wouldn't, and I finally got up enough courage and called him to see if I could come a year early." Shy and not one to easily meet people, Parlow struggled with trying to become a member of the team.
"I found it hard," she said. "I was very, very shy. I still am, but when I came to school I think people might have taken that stand-offish or arrogant. I didn't know many of the players, so my first thought was to prove myself on the field, then people would respect me."
She underwent a similar transformation with the U.S. national team. A substitute without a clearly defined role initially, she needed to find her niche -- reaching it when she began feeding brilliant passes to Milbrett and Hamm.
"Cindy is a great target up front," Hamm said. "She can hold off defenders and she's an incredible one-v-one player." Added Milbrett, "She's like a big post player. She can receive the ball under pressure and turn at run at defenses, or she can dish it off. She causes defenses a lot of trouble."
While Parlow's presence has helped make Milbrett and Hamm, the team's two top scoring threats, even more dangerous, she can also stick the ball in the net herself. She is ninth on the all-time list of national team scorers with 22 goals in 57 U.S. appearances.
And she has one very important touchdown reception.
Tim Nash is editor of College Soccer Weekly and can be e-mailed at
Tim Nash is editor of College Soccer Weekly and can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.