Shannon MacMillan's fingernails have tiny U.S. flags painted on them. She was one of the few veteran players to dye her hair for Thursday's victory over Nigeria. She has become one of the most exuberant members of an animated bunch of reserves for the U.S. women's national soccer team, which plays its final third-round match Sunday against North Korea at Foxboro Stadium.
The reserves were so spirited during last Thursday's victory over Nigeria at Soldier Field that when Mia Hamm followed her second goal of the tournament by sprinting to the sideline and diving toward the bench, U.S. Coach Tony DiCicco could be heard yelling at the reserves: "Get up! Don't hurt her!"
MacMillan's zeal would be less surprising if she hadn't lost her starting job last year when the U.S. team adopted a new formation and if she hadn't been the star of the 1996 Olympic team with three goals, two of which were game-winners. MacMillan, in fact, scored possibly the most famous and most important goal in the history of the U.S. women's team, hammering home the game-winner in overtime of the team's Olympic tournament semifinal victory over Norway.
MacMillan, 24, will return to the starting lineup, albeit briefly, for Sunday's game against North Korea. She, along with 1996 Olympic gold medalists Tisha Venturini and Tiffany Roberts, will get their chance to shine when DiCicco rests several regular starters, including 33-year-old Michelle Akers, who suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome.
"If I do get the start Sunday, it's going to be phenomenal," said MacMillan, who plays forward and midfield. "I'm dying to get my first World Cup goal. But if I'm not scoring, I want to be helping someone else on the team to score."
MacMillan replaced Hamm in the 51st minute of Thursday's match and came close to scoring on her only shot.
"Everyone's role changes within the team," MacMillan said. "In '96, I was a starter, but it was a different system. My role is a little different this year. What's great is that Tony has told me, `You just need to be ready.'
"It has been hard. Toward the beginning of the year, I was really struggling with it. I wasn't playing well. But [now], if you look at our bench, we could barely sit down during the game. The great thing about this team is that it's never starters versus reserves. I think it really does take all 20 of us."
The U.S. team is all but certain of a quarterfinal berth. North Korea would have to win by five goals and Nigeria would have to beat Denmark by at least 10 for the U.S. team not to advance to Thursday's quarterfinal round at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium.
At which point MacMillan, who lost her job when the U.S. team switched from a four-midfielder to a three-midfieder alignment, likely will head back to the bench. This isn't the first time MacMillan, a University of Portland graduate from Syosset, N.Y., has had to fight for playing time. She wasn't invited to residency camp leading up to the 1996 Olympics, but she played so well in pre-Olympic friendlies that she not only won a roster spot but also a starting job.
MacMillan has demonstrated a knack for turning on her energy supply whenever called upon. Though some players have difficulty adjusting to a reserve role, it hasn't been a problem for MacMillan. Her teammates say she can use a burst of speed and low-to-the-ground power -- she's 5 feet 5 -- to score at any time.
"She can win a game with one shot," DiCicco said. "She has the hardest shot on the team, bar none."
DiCicco would know, because MacMillan has somehow made a habit out of nailing him with errant shots during training. "When I was struggling and not scoring," MacMillan said, "Tony would say to me, `Do I need to get inside the goal for you to score?' "
Even on the occasions she doesn't drill DiCicco, MacMillan attracts attention with her powerful leg. "Mack has a shot," midfielder Julie Foudy said, "like I've never seen before."
CAPTION: 1999 Women's World Cup -- The Final Eight (This graphic was not available)
CAPTION: Mia Hamm, along with a handful of other regular starters, is slated to get rest in U.S.'s third-round match.