Briana Scurry, the U.S. women's national team goalkeeper, admitted to letting her eyes and attention wander during the United States' first Women's World Cup match. Her team, after all, won by a comfortable three-goal margin. And Scurry, like her teammates, found herself awed by the nearly 80,000 fans who packed Giants Stadium for the match. She couldn't help but peek at the crowd.
Things will be different at Thursday's quarterfinal between the United States and Germany at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium. Don't expect Scurry to be counting empty seats in the upper bowl. Don't expect her to be doing anything other than studying Germany's attacking players, or shouting instructions to her teammates. Scurry is so focused as Thursday's game approaches, she's not even promising to run nude through the city streets like she did during the 1996 Olympics.
More on that later.
The U.S. team has entered the elimination round of this three-week tournament, and no one feels more sharply the pressure of do-or-die than a goalkeeper. If the U.S. team wins Thursday, it will advance to the semifinal round in San Jose and play the winner of the other Thursday quarterfinal between Nigeria and Brazil.
"This heightens my awareness," Scurry said. "I know I have to be ready if Germany comes marching down the field."
A University of Massachusetts grad, Scurry grew up in Dayton, Minn., a small town south of St. Paul. She started learning the goalkeeper position when, at age 12, she joined a boys' league -- there was no girls' soccer at the time -- and the boys demanded that she play in goal, or not play at all. Though other kids disliked the position, Scurry said she embraced "the idea that the other team can't win if they can't score on me."
Scurry, the youngest of nine children, said her family was the only African-American family in her small home town and a "three- or four-town radius." She said she was the only African-American student in her elementary school and usually the only African-American on her soccer teams.
She said she recognizes that she is a pioneer in two ways: for female athletes in general and African-Americans in women's soccer.
"One of the things I'm trying to do out here is give them the opportunity to maybe choose soccer," said Scurry, 27, who also played basketball, softball and ran track while growing up. "That's the best thing you can do for any kid, especially African-American kids, is give them a choice."
U.S. team coach Tony DiCicco, a former keeper who played professionally in the American Soccer League, took Scurry under his wing back in 1994 when she joined the national team and calls Scurry one of his "prize students." During yesterday's training session, he made sure she got plenty of work. After drilling balls at each of the team's three goalkeepers -- Scurry is backed up by Saskia Webber and third-string goalkeeper Tracy Ducar -- the U.S. team concluded training by practicing penalty kicks.
To the delight of the crowd of about 300 that attended the workout at George Mason University, U.S. midfielder Julie Foudy scored on a penalty kick that, incredibly, bounced off of the right post and then ricocheted off the left post before spinning into the goal. Foudy, amazed, took a bow for the cheering crowd. Scurry looked befuddled.
She hopes those sort of bounces go her way Thursday.
"The defenses are going to be tested, and the goalkeepers are going to be tested," DiCicco said. "Sometimes, it comes down to who can make their chances -- but also, who can stop their chances.
"I think Briana plays best in these environments. . . . It comes down to the goalkeeper a lot. With these teams, one key save can make a difference."
Scurry was the starting goalkeeper during the 1996 Olympics, when the U.S. team defeated China, 2-1, to win the first gold medal ever awarded in women's soccer. To celebrate the achievement, and to make good on a bet, Scurry ran through the streets of Athens, Ga. -- where the match was played -- at about 2 a.m., just hours after the game. She was nude. She insists she sprinted about 300 feet in a "very dark, secluded area," and promptly went inside. She has the episode on video, but keeps it under lock and key in Chicago.
She will not make the same pledge regarding the final match of this tournament, which takes place in Pasadena, Calif., on July 10.
DiCicco doesn't much care what Scurry does after the tournament. For the next few days, however, he will monitor her closely to ensure she goes into Thursday's match feeling fit, loose, energetic and, most of all, filled with confidence.
"At this point," DiCicco said, "goalkeeping is a lot about self-esteem."
If You're Going
Suggestions for attending Thursday's Women's World Cup quarterfinals at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium
The Arena Drive exit on the Beltway will open at 4 p.m.
Gates open at 5:30 p.m. for general seating; 5 p.m. for club and suites.
Parking lots open at 4 p.m. Cost is $10. (USAirways Arena lots used for Redskins games are not open.)
Shuttle from Landover Metro station runs from 5 p.m. until 11:30 p.m. Cost is $5 roundtrip. (About 1,100 fans used the shuttle on each of the first two days.)
There are 22 ticket windows overall; stadium officials will decide on gameday how many will be used for will-call and how many for purchasing tickets. Sixteen windows are at Gate A, six at Gate E.
Will-call tickets can be picked up between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Wednesday and between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. and then between 4 p.m. and kickoff on Thursday.
Fan Fest, a free interactive area, will open at 5:30 p.m. between Gates D and E. The Bud Light Concert Stage is between Gates F and G and will feature the band Once Hush, starting at 5:30.