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U.S. concerned about Sun Wen.

By Gary Davidson
SoccerTimes

PASADENA, Calif. (Friday, July 9, 1999) -- Stopping high-scoring forward Sun Wen will be a focal point for the U.S. women's soccer team as it tries to capture the World Cup crown Saturday against China in the Rose Bowl.

She has scored seven goals in the tournament, featuring dazzling runs and quickly released shots. Coach Tony DiCicco said he is considering assigning a player the sole responsibility of marking her.

He declined to be more specific, but one possibility would be aggressive, quick central defender Kate Sobrero, 22, who had a similar task earlier this year against Norway, shutting down star striker Marianne Pettersen.

Defensive midfielder Michelle Akers had a similar assignment in the semifinals against Brazil, but that was against a midfielder, Sissi.

"Sun Wen has always been a decent goal scorer, but this year she's become an outstanding goal scorer," DiCicco said. "There are similarities (with U.S. star Mia Hamm, but) I think Mia's faster. Sun Wen might be a bit better passer, plays a bit more comfortably in the midfield."

The United States beat China 2-1 for the 1996 Summer Olympics goal medal, but DiCicco said both teams have improved since then. "The biggest improvement in their team is the play of Sun Wen," he said.

"She's gone up another level since the Olympics. She was an excellent player in the Olympics, but now she's one of the best in the world. It's made everybody around her better. "She looks fitter than she's ever looked. She's trimmed some pounds down. ... The two goals she scored against Norway were outstanding goals. We'll try to make sure she doesn't get any of those."

DiCicco cited midfield playmaker Liu Ailing as a player the United States must be conscious of shutting down and goalkeeper Gao Hong as being outstanding. He added that the Chinese have effectively infused youth into their program since 1996.

"They've brought in some younger players that are paying them dividends," he said. "The three that come to mind are their 18-year-old (midfielder Pu Wei), Bai Jie, their left back, and the running mate for Sun Wen (Jin Yan)."

Still, it is Sun who is foremost on the minds of he Americans. "She is very, very good," central defender Carla Overbeck said. "She's a very smart player. She can run at our defense and cause us problems. She can make runs off the ball that are tactically at a high level so that she runs in behind us or makes diagonal runs. She does it all and always seems to find a seam in the boxes, and her teammates find her there. She's a very sophisticated player."

DiCicco said the United States should be considered the underdog, but that carries little meaning. "They breezed through their group play. They breezed through their second round. They dismantled the world champions (Norway). They've beaten us two out of three (in 1999). They have to be considered the favorites here. Let them have the pressure of being the favorites."

"But the rhetoric of the game isn't going to matter. The previous games aren't going to matter. How bad they beat Norway isn't going to matter. It's going to come down to two outstanding teams going at it on the field and who plays the better game."

Gary Davidson is managing editor of SoccerTimes and can be e-mailed at info@soccertimes.com.

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