The United States women's soccer team returned to the field today for the first time since it defeated China in the World Cup final on July 10. This time, though, there was no pressure, very little drama, and the only people who removed their shirts were the high school students with "USA" painted on their chests.
The long layoff since the World Cup showed in the U.S. performance, but the Americans had more than enough to handle an inexperienced Ireland team, 5-0, before a crowd of 30,564 at Foxboro Stadium. A pair of goals from Tiffeny Milbrett and goals by Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett and Kristine Lilly provided the highlights, but this game was more a showcase than a true international exhibition.
"We've been apart since July 10 except for promotional events," U.S. Coach Tony DiCicco said. "Any near-misses I put off to the fact that we haven't been training at all since then."
Despite some obvious rust from the layoff, the difference between the world champions and their guests was obvious. Six of the U.S. starters have more than 100 international appearances, while Ireland's starting lineup had 77 combined.
"There was no doubting the U.S.'s ability, they're the world champions," Ireland's Claire Scanlon said. "To be honest, a result like this isn't shameful at all."
"I haven't played 90 minutes in more than a month," said U.S. forward Cindy Parlow, who missed three easy chances in the first half. "I was a little rusty like the rest of the team. But the misses and the bad touches everybody saw are really uncharacteristic for this team. That will come back in time."
DiCicco scheduled the game to give his players a warmup before a game against Brazil in Denver on Sept. 26. Joking that the only limitation he put on his team in the months following the World Cup victory was a 5 a.m. curfew, DiCicco was impressed with the way his team quickly found its legs after a slow start.
"We wanted them to take some time off. We don't want to start our preparations for [next year's] Olympics in September 1999. It would be too long," DiCicco said. After the game against Brazil and this fall's U.S. Women's Cup, "come January, February and March we'll start getting serious about the intensity of our training."
Milbrett had a hand in the first three goals, collecting a pass from Parlow behind the defense to score in the 25th minute and crossing to a wide-open Foudy for a 2-0 lead in the 38th. Milbrett scored her second goal in the 59th minute when Sarah Whalen delivered a perfect centering pass to the penalty spot seconds after coming in as a substitute. Fawcett and Lilly padded the final score in the final 20 minutes.
The U.S. team, which didn't arrive in Boston for training until Thursday, failed to convert more than a half-dozen excellent chances after entering the stadium to a standing ovation.
CAPTION: Mia Hamm, right, beats Ireland's Dolores Deasley to the ball during first-half action of exhibition game at Foxboro Stadium.