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Practice field 'klutz,' but whiz during games.

By Tim Nash
Gannett News Service

CHICAGO, Ill. (Friday, June 25, 1999) -- Kate Sobrero was so convinced that she would not able to play in Thursday night's match against Nigeria that she called friends and told them not to make the five-hour drive to the game.

Not only did the former Notre Dame star play, but she was an integral part of the U.S,'s 7-1 destruction of Nigeria in the second game of the 1999 Women's World Cup.

But it didn't look as if she would be able to contribute at all when, during Wednesday afternoon's training session, she and teammate Joy Fawcett innocently went up for a head ball and when Sobrero landed, she twisted her right ankle.

Coaches and team medical personnel expected their talented central defender to be watching from the bench as they battled the attack-happy Nigerians in a Group A matchup the next day at Soldier Field. But when game time came, there was Sobrero in herusual starting position.

Before getting the OK to play in the match, however, she had to prove to the doctors and coaching staff that she was able to get the job done. "At 1:30, they brought me out and made me run sprints and make cuts," she said. "I kept telling them I was OK. But I had to pass the test."

Team doctor Mark Adams pronounced her 95 percent fit, and that was good enough for Coach Tony DiCicco. "She deserved to be in there," defender Brandi Chastain said. "I thought she did a great job."

"The nice thing about our team is that even though they are hurt, they don't appear hurt w hen the game starts."

Sobrero was vital in a game plan that looked to disrupt the speedy and creative Nigerian attack. And after Nigeria took an early 1-0 lead and began to push forward and further threaten the Americans' defense, she was there, effectively chasing down the speedy Rita Nwadke and Mercy Akide, dynamic forwards.

"I had to play today," Sobrero said afterward. "I wanted to play so bad. I kept telling the doctors, 'I'm fine.' I told myself, 'It's the World Cup, suck it up.'"

And suck it up she did.

Her defensive effort, in essence, helped buy the United States time and gave it confidence. Her teammates tied the game in the 19th minute, took the lead in the 20th minute, and made it 3-1 in the 23rd minute. By halftime, it was 6-1, and she was done for the night. She came out of the locker room at the beginning of the second half with ice on her ankle and her uniform in the laundry bag.

"My ankle hurt a little bit at the end of the first half," she said. "I don't know if I'll play Sunday as a precaution."

"Kate is playing excellent soccer," DiCicco said. "She makes us a stronger defensive team. She solves a lot of problems and she covers well for some of our mistakes."

Battling injuries is nothing new to the Bloomfield Hills, Mich., resident. In fact, her first two national team training camps were nothing short of nightmarish. In her first one, she passed out during a fitness training session. In her second one, she broke her jaw in a collision with goalkeeper Tracy Ducar during a scrimmage.

And once, in her freshman year of college, Sobrero was riding her bike to the team bus, with a book bag and knapsack on her back. She pulled the wrong hand break and went flying over the handlebars and landed on her chin. Stitches followed, as did hours of teasing from Irish teammates.

Coming back from those types of setbacks is a testament to the strength of her spirit, the very qualities that have made her a starter - at age 22 with just 27 international appearances - on perhaps the world's best team, and leads DiCicco to call her "one of the best defenders in the world."

Still, she can't help but poke fun at herself.

"I'm the biggest klutz," Sobrero admitted. "It doesn't surprise me that I got hurt ... especially in practice. It seems every time I get hurt, it's in practice. I think my luck in changing, though. A year ago, I would've broken my ankle. This time I just sprained it."

If Sobrero was unable to play, her roommate for the past six months, Sara Whalen, would have received the starting nod. "We posted two lineups this morning," DiCicco said. "One with Kate and one without. Sara would have started if Kate could not."

"I wanted to play," Sobrero said. "But I also wanted Sara to get in." As it turned out, they both got to play. Whalen entered the game at halftime when Sobrero and Michelle Akers came out.

Her other friends, by the way, -- the ones who wanted to come to Chicago to see Sobrero play -- never made the game. From her cell phone in the locker room after the game, she checked her messages. And she had quite a few angry ones. But if they are anything like Sobrero, they'll get over it.

Tim Nash is editor of College Soccer Weekly and can be e-mailed at socrnuz@netpath.net.

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