German sweeper Steffi Jones hopes to see her estranged father at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium on Sunday. Her teammates and coaches hope to see signs they are on the road to redemption.
Germany is 1-0-1 heading into its final Group B match on Sunday against Brazil (2-0), and a nation that has tumbled from its peak of four years ago -- when it lost in the 1995 Women's World Cup final to Norway -- is desperate for confirmation of progress.
At the 1996 Olympics, Germany lost to Norway and tied Brazil in the first round, failing to advance. Germany drastically revamped its women's league structure and is upgrading its player development schemes in reaction to its performance.
"I think we are seeing the results of the changes," said Tina Theune-Meyer, who took over as head coach after the Olympics. "But from this point, in the tournament, we will play only good teams."
So far, Germany tied Italy, 1-1 in its opener, and throttled Mexico, 6-0. The real tests await, and the Germans hope for the return of midfield star Martina Voss, who missed the first two games with a quadriceps strain. She is second on the team's all-time list with 119 appearances, and fifth all-time in goals with 25.
The Brazilians are the darlings of the 1999 Women's World Cup; the Americans are simply the best. In a pair of friendly matches against China in March, Germany won 4-1 and lost 3-0. Where the Germans measure up, and how successful their overhaul has been, may become clear in the next two weeks.
"We're now as good as we were in 1995," said Jones, the child of a German woman and an American serviceman who has seen his daughter only once in the past 23 years. "We have young, strong players. They are our future."
And so is Jones, 26, who anchors the German defense at sweeper. Her father, Ray Jones, was in the U.S. Army and stationed in Frankfurt when he met Lola Fields. Steffi was born in December 1972, and the couple married, but the marriage broke up when Jones returned to the United States. The couple divorced, and Steffi went 19 years without seeing her father until they were reunited in Tyler, Tex. Ray Jones now lives in San Antonio.
"All I had was a picture," said Jones, who is 5 feet 11 and whose black hair and brown skin mirror her heritage. "That was after 19 years, and it was really strange. When he stood in front of me, I didn't know what to say. He just took me and hugged me."
Jones began playing soccer in school, and said she met more resistance as a female player than she did as the child of a racially mixed marriage. She was chosen captain of a boys under-13 team she played on and was the only girl in a league of 400 players.
She debuted for the national team in 1993 and was named the tournament MVP in 1997 when Germany won the European championship. That title was an encouraging sign, but Theune-Meyer says resistance to competitive women's soccer in her country is still very stiff.
"Many men still think this is not a sport for women, or for the future, but they will see that it is," she said.
Some of the top national team players receive a few thousand marks per month from their clubs, but many -- such as Jones -- hold down full-time jobs and train and play zealously for expenses and meals.
"Some of our players play for good clubs, and they don't have to work that much, maybe a few hours," said Jones. "But it is not possible in the whole women's league, because we don't have the money. I am doing my best and I don't get paid, so I have to work."
She punches her time clock in a large department store in Frankfurt, then rushes off to train for two hours in the evening. "You work eight hours, and then you train," she said. "That's how it works in Germany."
For Jones, her goal is not only to win a World Cup, but also to see her father, and for him to see her play in person. She is expecting him to be at Cooke Stadium on Sunday, after he didn't turn up in Portland.
"He's only seen me play on TV," she said. "I'll probably have to tell him how [soccer] works, but I don't care. I just want to have him there."