The U.S. women's national soccer team received another round of accolades and applause on the White House lawn yesterday, the start of a week in which the players' attention has begun to turn from celebrating to negotiating.
U.S. players Mia Hamm and co-captains Carla Overbeck and Julie Foudy began initial discussions Sunday night in Washington with U.S. Soccer Federation President Robert Contiguglia. The talks are designed to resolve a schedule clash between the Women's World Cup champions and the USSF over the players' activities this fall.
Called "America's soccer team" by President Clinton and the "girls of summer" by first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, the 20 members of the U.S. team that won the 1999 Women's World Cup title recently announced plans to tour this fall, playing games at major indoor arenas around the nation, including MCI Center on Nov. 20.
That announcement came days after the USSF announced plans to send the team on an international tour through Egypt, South Africa and Australia in November and December. The dates of the two tours conflict.
"Obviously, our intention wasn't to hurt the federation," Foudy said shortly before the White House ceremony. "We're hoping that if they want to do a tour, we can all do a tour. We think this [the national tour] is a great opportunity for us to thank our fans and develop more interest" in soccer.
U.S. Coach Tony DiCicco seemed to take the players' side, saying the USSF's international plans should be spread over the next four years. He said the U.S. team would be best served with a relatively light year of international travel as it prepared for the 2000 Olympics in Australia. He also said he would be willing to accommodate the players' indoor tour plans in his preparation for USSF matches, including the U.S. Women's Cup in early October.
"We can design our training to complement what they are doing [with the indoor games]," DiCicco said. "Any time you're together playing and training, there is a benefit to that. . . . I just hope whatever question [the USSF] needs to have addressed is handled and doesn't create any conflict."
The players, who have been on at least four major news magazine covers and have been the toast of the nation for more than a week, have more leverage in negotiating than ever before. Because the players' collective bargaining agreement with the USSF expired at the July 10 conclusion of the Women's World Cup, they are not obligated to represent the USSF this fall.
Independent of the USSF, the women arranged to play 11 matches Oct. 22-Dec. 12 against world-class players from other countries at arenas nationwide. SFX Sports Group, which organized the tour, has guaranteed the U.S. players nearly $50,000 apiece. That's far more than they have earned through the USSF, which has paid players $250 or less per victory and annual salaries of less than $20,000.
Contiguglia said the USSF would consider moving back its planned international tour so as not to conflict with the indoor tour. He added that the United States has a "responsibility to spread women's football around the world."
"We're hopeful we can work it out," Contiguglia said. "We're pretty flexible."
At the White House, the players -- except midfielder Michelle Akers, who has chronic fatigue syndrome and declined the invitation -- presented an autographed soccer ball to Vice President Gore and his wife, Tipper. They gave a replica U.S. jersey that said "Clinton 99" to the president and a crystal soccer player statuette to Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"These women have sent a signal loud and clear to millions and millions of girls that they can follow their dreams," President Clinton said.
Notes: DiCicco, who plans to be at the helm when training camp opens in September, said he remained undecided about whether to return for the 2000 Olympics. DiCicco, who is married and has four sons, said frequent travel with the U.S. team had placed a great strain on his family.
"There is a lot of lure to continue on, but there is also a downside to it," he said.
CAPTION: (Photo ran on page A01) Soccer Celebration
Kristine Lilly of U.S. women's soccer team acknowledges President Clinton's reference to game-saving defensive play in world championship game against China. The team was honored by the president and Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, at White House yesterday. Story on Page D1.
CAPTION: Co-captains Jule Foudy, center, and Carla Overbeck present Hillary Rodham Clinton with a crystal player statuette during a ceremony at White House.