U.S. Manages to Hold Its Own
By Amy Shipley
Thousands of sentences broke in midstream, and thousands of thin balloons stopped in mid-wave, and U.S. Coach Tony DiCicco probably stopped breathing. The U.S. women's national team fell behind the Germans in yesterday's Women's World Cup quarterfinal at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium not once, but twice – the first time on a goal scored accidentally by a U.S. player, the second on a goal just before halftime.
But what the stunned crowd of 54,642 viewed with dismay, and DiCicco viewed with disbelief, the indefatigable U.S. players viewed as nothing more than an impediment to the day's mission.
The Americans defeated Germany, 3-2, in typical U.S. team fashion, which is to say, in no typical way at all. The only customary thing about this match for the United States was the team's overflowing confidence and self-assurance – even facing elimination from a tournament that has depended on them to fill stadiums. Instead, the team has a semifinal date against Brazil on Sunday in Palo Alto, Calif. Brazil ousted Nigeria, 4-3, in overtime last night.
"At the beginning of the second half, you could feel it out there: 'We're going to do it,'‚" said U.S. defender Joy Fawcett, who scored the game-winning goal on a header in the 66th minute. "It's a weird thing. You can tell it's going to happen. We don't get scared, we don't get nervous.
"This is our dream. We will do anything to realize our dream."
For a while, the evening had a more nightmarish quality to it, particularly for defender Brandi Chastain, who tied the score at 2 in the 49th minute but had a substantially less uplifting goal earlier.
In the game's fifth minute, Chastain was trying to roll the ball back to U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry. But Chastain's gentle tap from about 18 yards trickled wide of Scurry, who had come well out of the goal. Scurry, Chastain, Kate Sobrero and Carla Overbeck chased it furiously, but they couldn't stop the roller.
It might have been the slowest goal scored in the tournament. It seemed to be one of the most demoralizing. Turns out, Scurry had shouted that she would retrieve the ball herself just as Chastain kicked it – which, of course, was too late.
Was Chastain distraught? Disgusted? Panicked?
"I just turned around and said, 'Now, we've got to score two goals,'‚" Chastain said. "I never doubted we were going to score."
Did Chastain doubt the United States would win?
Chastain made considerable amends for her early miscue by poking a deflected ball from a corner kick into the goal from less than 10 yards. She then fell almost flat on her back, staring skyward, as if equally happy, relieved and exhausted.
"It was done on guts today," DiCicco said. "It wasn't a classic game. It wasn't up to our normal standards. But as far as putting heart and soul in it for 45 minutes [of the second half], I couldn't be prouder."
The Germans' only consolation was securing a place in the 2000 Olympic field for the Games in Sydney. The United States also secured a berth.
DiCicco looked about as smart as a coach could look when Fawcett scored by redirecting a corner kick from midfielder Shannon MacMillan into the goal. One minute earlier, DiCicco had sent MacMillan, who scored a goal and had two assists in Sunday's game against North Korea, into the match in place of Julie Foudy.
The corner kick was MacMillan's first touch of the match, and first contact with the soccer ball since halftime.
"She was," DiCicco said, "probably in for two seconds."
Fawcett's goal gave the United States the lead it needed to advance. But it was DiCicco's short but pointed speech at halftime, and common-sense words from forward Mia Hamm in the halftime huddle, that gave the Americans the lift they needed to recover from the first-half storm.
After the own goal, U.S. forward Tiffeny Milbrett evened the score in the 16th minute, jumping on a deflected Michelle Akers ball from about 12 yards and ripping a right-footed shot past goalkeeper Silke Rottenberg. But the half ended with a long, left-footed shot by German midfielder Bettina Wiegmann in injury time to give the Germans a 2-1 lead.
"It's always disappointing to give up a goal in the last five minutes" of a half, Chastain said. "But it also gave Tony a reason to kick us in the butt a little bit and say, 'Look, you have 45 minutes left of your dream. If you don't spend these next 45 minutes wisely, you are going to go home.'‚"
Hamm asked her teammates before taking the field:
"What are we afraid of here? Let's go after it."
And so they did.
And the U.S. team isn't going home after all.
© 1999 The Washington Post Company