Business As Usual U.S. women made short work of Portugal as the run-up to the World Cup began

February 08, 1999

Briana Scurry squatted in front of her goal with three minutes
still to play. At the other end of the field the ball was
bouncing in and out of sight like a volleyball in a neighbor's
backyard. She rested her chin in the palm of her gloved hand,
squinting against the sunlight. She's the goalkeeper of the U.S.
women's soccer team. "I won't lie," said Scurry after watching
her teammates devour Portugal 6-0 in Fort Lauderdale last
Saturday. "I do get bored."

There will be many such days over the next four months leading
up to the 16-team women's World Cup, which will be played at
seven U.S. venues beginning on June 19. Last week the host team
officially launched its Cup preparations with a couple of
friendly matches against the Portuguese, who accepted their
beatings like a good sparring partner. Including a game three
days earlier in Orlando that wasn't open to the public, the
visitors were besieged by 74 shots and 13 goals while producing
just one shot of their own--a misfire high over the bar,
hopelessly beyond Scurry's reach.

During games such as last Saturday's, Scurry's 10 teammates on
the field make her feel as much a part of the action as the
Chief Justice in a room full of senators. On other days,
particularly in the privacy of daily training, they give her
more work than she can handle. "Practices are always more
competitive for me than games," Scurry says. "In practice I
might see 100, 200 or 300 shots." Those 300 shots are hooked and
walloped and headed and lobbed by two dozen women performing in
the most competitive environment their sport has ever known. The
practices of the original Dream Team, with Magic Johnson and
Michael Jordan going at each other day after day, were the sort
of thing the U.S. women are experiencing now.

With the win over Portugal, the U.S. stretched its unbeaten
streak on home soil to 46 games. (The women have lost only three
times at home since 1993.) Yet the American players know that
three or four teams are capable of ending that streak this
summer. "Everyone in this country thinks we're going to win,
that it's a sure thing, but it's not," says U.S. captain Carla
Overbeck, a defender. Last year the Americans won 22 of 25
matches against mostly overwhelmed competition; two ties and one
loss were to the three other seeds for this summer's
championships: China, which played the U.S. to a scoreless tie
in Guang Zhou; Germany, which drew 1-1 in St. Louis; and
defending World Cup champion Norway, which inflicted a 4-1 loss
in Lagos, Portugal.

Even though he has eight players with 100 or more national-team
appearances, coach Tony DiCicco has opened the competition at
all positions. He claims to have identified no more than six
starters among the 26 players in camp. Either 20 or 22
players--FIFA has yet to decide on a final number--will make the
World Cup roster. DiCicco says he learned a lot from watching
France plug in several bench players en route to winning the
men's World Cup last summer. "I want to make sure we're like
that," he says. "By June I want us to have 18 players who can
step in and on any given day be a key player in the lineup."

The game last Saturday, played before a polite crowd of 5,152 at
Lockhart Stadium, seemed to confirm his wish. DiCicco started a
front line of Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly and Tiffeny Milbrett,
none of whom is older than 27, but--counting the two goals by
Lilly and one from Hamm against Portugal--together they have
scored an outrageous 216 goals in international matches. Playing
behind them, having moved recently from forward to central
midfield, was 5'10" Michelle Akers, who ran the offense with an
intimidating, Magic-like presence, towering over opposing
midfielders. Akers's sprinting volley off a corner kick in the
40th minute was the 100th goal of her international career.

As if showing off all his weapons, DiCicco brought on five
substitutes for the second half, including the enormously gifted
forward Danielle Fotopoulos, 22, who embodies all of the coach's
options. Two months ago Fotopoulos ended her college career by
leading Florida to the national title, finishing with an NCAA
record 118 goals. At 5'11" and 165 pounds and blessed with
surprising speed, Fotopoulos is an imposing figure. This summer
she is likely to make an impact as a second-half substitute,
much as she did last Saturday while scoring her fifth
international goal. The other American strikers drive and slash
toward the goal. Fotopoulos is more like a low-post player in
basketball, a target for American passes, who can get position
and score on the first touch. "I accept my role, but I'm not
complacent," Fotopoulos says. "While I'm becoming a better
player, I'm making my teammates work harder."

Which on most game days makes goalkeeping a dull deal.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Like a low post in basketball, Fotopoulos can get positionand score on the first touch.

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)