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Women’s World Cup

U.S. ready to focus on finish of dream season.

By Gary Davidson

PASADENA, Calif. (Friday, July 9, 1999) -- When the bus carrying the United States women's soccer team departed the Rose Bowl early this afternoon following practice, the Americans finally were left to focus on the one thing that matters most to them: winning the FIFA Women's World Cup.

Before returning to this venerable stadium Saturday to take on China before a sellout crowd estimated at 88,000, there will be no more interviews, no more autograph-seekers, no more demands of family and friends on a team that has captivated America with its play on the field and demeanor off it.

The last training session was closed to the public. After 30 minutes with the media, the team was whisked away to concentrate on the task at hand.

"There's no measure you can put on how important it is (to win)," defender Brandi Chastain said. "It's just beyond words, beyond emotion, it's beyond the years we have spent (working to this moment). It's kind of our whole being; what we are and what we want to accomplish.

"I can't imagine it any other way (than winning). We practice positive visualization ... putting yourself in positive situations and how you are going to react to them ... Are you going to stand up to the challenge? So all the visualization I've had is positive. There are no doubts."

Coach Tony DiCicco may have a doubt about his starting lineup, specifically whether to start powerful Shannon MacMillan on the front line instead of versatile Cindy Parlow.

He has not altered his starting 11 throughout the first five matches of this tournament, but with 90 minutes remaining to the World Cup dream, the coach said he wants to be sure to exploit every possible advantage.

He remembers the 1996 Summer Olympics when MacMillan came off the bench in overtime to score a sudden death game-winner in the semifinals, then started the championship match, netting the first goal in the 2-1 triumph over China.

"We're still thinking about whether we should play Shannon or not," DiCicco said. "I think she creates some problems with her speed. And Cindy, I've been very pleased with her play. We've had this very consistent starting lineup. (Parlow) got the winner for us against Brazil. She's a bit better defensively. A bit better in the air.

"Both give me options in that they can play the midfield or up front. Both of them have strength in set pieces. Shannon is one of our best free kick players, and she hits the best corner kick in the women's game, in my opinion. Cindy gives us heading options on free kicks and a lot of other things.

"I don't think I can make a bad decision, but I want to make the right decision."

In many ways, China resembles the American team: organized on defense with constant commitment to move numbers forward.

The teams are certainly familiar with each other, having played six times since January 1998. The United States is 3-2-1 in those matches, 1-2 this year.

"It's kind of scary to see the level of their game," striker Mia Hamm said. "They seem to have so much confidence now. What we've noticed about them that's different is that their psychological game is so much harder than we've seen.

"One of the things that we always said they were missing, which they seem to have found, is a great combination of veteran players and youth players. Right now we ... (are) looking at a team playing its best soccer. We'll have to play our best to compete with them."

The U.S. plans? "We have to be organized, especially defensively," Hamm said. "They like to play the ball out of the back. They like to flood zones, get numbers up. They like to get (to the) endline. In every line, we need to be organized. We can't let their midfielders change the point on set plays. And when they do get endline, we have to mark tight in the box."

The fact that Hamm has expended so much effort on defense from the front line has been largely ignored in the comparisons between Hamm, the all-time international leader with 111 goals, who has scored only twice in this event, and China's star forward Sun Wen, tied for the tournament lead with seven strikes.

"Mia has been one of our most consistent personalities this whole tournament, bar none," assistant coach Lauren Gregg said. "People who don't know the game, and don't know what she gives to this team, miss the boat if they are only looking for her to put the ball in the back of the net. Her mobility alone shreds the defense. Teams are forced to track her because she is so dangerous. She is so unselfish, she makes runs not always to get the ball but to distract the defense so one of her teammates can get in."

A sizeable number of media have installed China as the favorite. "Six people say we are the underdogs, and the other six people are saying we're the favorites," midfielder Kristine Lilly said. "We just have to be ready and prepare ourselves to play our best soccer.

"Basically what's going to happen tomorrow is the team that plays its best soccer is going to win. ... They're going to be strong. They're going to be organized, technical. We're organized. We're technical. Basically, it's just who plays the better soccer."

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

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