When she was 13 years old, Cindy Parlow stood in awe at an autograph signing rather than approach Carla Overbeck, a key member of the U.S. women's national soccer team that had just won the inaugural Women's World Cup in 1991. Uncomfortably shy, Parlow sent her mother through the line instead.
At 15, Parlow received her first invitation to try out for the national team. She could barely muster the courage, Parlow recalled today, to ask U.S. team member Kristine Lilly for advice about playing wide midfield -- which is what then-U.S. coach Anson Dorrance sent Parlow to Lilly's room to do.
Now 21, Parlow is considerably less shy about talking to Overbeck and Lilly. That's partly because they are teammates on the U.S. squad that won its 1999 Women's World Cup opening match, 3-0, on Saturday over Denmark. It's also because Parlow, the youngest starter on the U.S. team, has gone from a reticent teenager to one of the most indefatigable players on the U.S. roster.
Despite her youth, the nearly 80,000 people that filled Giants Stadium Saturday and the fact that the match was her first Women's World Cup appearance, Parlow said she felt nothing more than a touch of nervousness for the first five minutes on the field. "I was fine right up until game time," she said. "No jitters or anything."
Parlow isn't worried about Thursday's match against Nigeria at Soldier Field in Chicago. She is merely looking forward to it. On the hour-long bus ride to Saturday's match, while some teammates observed pregame rituals such as listening to soothing music or meditating, Parlow said she "just sat there."
Was she visualizing? Meditating? Praying?
"No," she said, grinning. "I just sat there."
"I'm the chillin' type," Parlow said. "I like to stay cool and calm."
While some teammates danced during Saturday's team breakfast as music blared, burning off their pregame excitement, Parlow said she just "waved and walked away." In college, as her University of North Carolina teammates used to race on the field, shouting and leaping, Parlow insisted on walking out. "I can't allow myself to get like that," Parlow said. "A lot of my game is about being under control."
The tallest player on the team at 5 feet 11, Parlow starts at forward along with Mia Hamm and Tiffeny Milbrett. Although her primary job is to be a target player, receiving passes from midfielders and looking for Milbrett and Hamm on cuts to the goal, Parlow displayed an array of skills Saturday.
In the 25th minute, she took a pass from Hamm and hit the right post with a shot. In the 60th minute, off another pass from Hamm, Parlow chopped a right-footed shot that Denmark's goalkeeper barely punched over the goal.
"Sometimes we forget that it's their first" Women's World Cup, U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry said about Parlow and youthful non-starters Danielle Fotopoulos and Lorrie Fair, all of whom bring confidence and impressive credentials to the U.S. team. "The way they play, you would never know it. They are very professional, even though they are barely out of their teens."
Parlow grew up in Memphis, playing soccer and basketball. Though she enjoyed the latter, soccer came more easily. She said she learned to walk by attempting to kick a regulation soccer ball around the house. Now a player with the size to be very effective heading the ball, Parlow showed an early knack even for that. She used to trip over the family soccer ball as she was trying to kick it, banging her head on the ball as she fell.
Parlow got the idea she belonged on the national team after becoming in 1998 only the second player -- besides Hamm -- to twice win both the Hermann Trophy and the MAC player of the year award, prestigious honors in the collegiate game.
In 1996, she was invited to play with the U.S. team for the first time. She was the youngest player on the roster when the United States won the first Olympic gold medal awarded in women's soccer. She has played in more than 50 international games for the U.S. team, but it wasn't until this season that she became a full-time starter.
"For her age, she's very mature," Hamm said. "We try not to put too much pressure on her, but she wants the responsibility, and she takes it."
CAPTION: Cindy Parlow (12), tallest player on U.S. team at 5 feet 11, displayed skills in Saturday's win over Denmark.