As Mia Hamm got the U.S. rolling in the World Cup, was too much
expected of her?
Expecting a soccer player to score in every game is like
counting on a prospector to strike gold every time he pans a
mountain stream. It's possible but very, very unlikely. "You get
so few opportunities, and even then, the majority of the time
you fail," says U.S. striker Mia Hamm. "That's why everyone
celebrates so much when they do score."
Of course, that didn't stop American midfielder Brandi Chastain
from predicting last Saturday, on the first day of the Women's
World Cup, that Hamm would average a goal per game during the
tournament. "Expecting Mia to score three goals a game is
unrealistic, but one goal every game is realistic," said
Chastain after Hamm's magnificent one-goal, one-assist
performance in the 3-0 U.S. win over Denmark at Giants Stadium.
That said, great expectations and soccer are almost always a
dubious mix, especially for forwards. During World Cup '98, for
example, Brazil's It-boy, Ronaldo, scored four goals in seven
games and led his team to the final, yet his countrymen
considered him a failure for not having been more prolific. For
World Cup '99, Hamm is burdened by similar outsized, made-for-TV
hopes, and in one incandescent game, at least, she fulfilled them.
U.S. coach Tony DiCicco, for his part, says he's looking mainly
for consistency from Hamm, in either scoring or setting up other
players. Hamm would prefer to leave all expectations aside and
just play. "Goals help your confidence, and as a forward you
feel that scoring is one of your jobs," she says, "but I want to
do whatever I can to help our team win. If that means working
hard defensively and not getting a shot on goal, then that's
fine with me."
Still, what does it take these days for a world-class goal
scorer to merely meet expectations? And in Hamm's case, as in
Ronaldo's, has the bar been set so high--by the media, fans and
teammates--that it's nearly unreachable? DiCicco thinks so. "No
player can score a goal a game for long stretches, not if you're
playing at a high level," he says. "I'd love for Mia to do it,
but we can't expect that in this World Cup."
Certainly it could happen: Hamm carried a seven-game scoring
streak into this Thursday's match against Nigeria. But it
probably won't: Earlier this year she had an eight-game goal
drought. Either way, the Chastain Standard is too high. At
week's end Hamm, the most prolific international scorer in
women's soccer history, had averaged 0.63 goals-per-game during
her 13 years on the U.S. team. Even Pele, the highest-scoring
men's player of all time, averaged only 0.86 for Brazil.
The point is, even for a player such as Hamm, scoring a goal
depends on too many factors outside her control: whether
opponents try to smother her with two or three defenders;
whether her teammates can get her the ball; and whether,
alternatively, they take up the scoring burden themselves. "The
good thing about our team is that so many people can score,"
says midfielder Julie Foudy. "That's a great weapon, and it
takes a lot of pressure off Mia."
In other words, Hamm could finish the Cup with one breathtaking
goal, six assists and a U.S. triumph. If that happens, would her
Cup performance be considered a success? Probably not. Would
that be fair? Certainly not.
Canadian Star's Lament
SHE COULDN'T HAMM IT UP
Ask Canadian forward Charmaine Hooper if, given the right
circumstances, she could have matched Mia Hamm's international
scoring record (110 goals and counting), and Hooper has an
eye-popping answer: Sure. "Mia has more than three times as many
caps [national team appearances] as I have, because Canada
almost never plays," says Hooper. "If we were able to get the
same number of games, of course we would have players scoring
that many goals."
Hooper, 31, can almost back up her bravado. Over a 12-year
international career, her 0.56 goals-per-game average (31 goals
in 55 caps) nearly matches Hamm's 0.63. What's more, having
played for Canada and North Carolina State, in the shadow of
Hamm's U.S. and North Carolina teams, Hooper saves her scoring
venom for the U.S. team. This year she has more goals against
the U.S.--four in two games--than against any other opponent.
The daughter of a former Guyanese diplomat, Hooper began playing
soccer at age seven after her family moved to Zambia. The
Hoopers relocated to Ottawa when Charmaine was 10, and eight
years later, upon gaining her Canadian citizenship, she joined
Since then Hooper has become even more cosmopolitan, playing not
only at N.C. State but also, until last year, in Japan's
L-League. Along the way she learned how to talk the talk in more
than one language. After going scoreless against Japan in a 1-1
World Cup opener last Saturday, Hooper met with her opponents on
the field--and spoke in Japanese.
Nigeria's Speedy Striker
MERCY SHOWS NO MERCY
While nearly all of the Women's World Cup teams have trouble
getting media coverage in their own countries, Nigeria has no
such difficulty. More than 100 members of the Nigerian press
applied for World Cup credentials, so many that organizers
turned away half of them. Why so much interest? Quicksilver
striker Mercy Akide, who on Sunday put on a show that surely
gave pause to the U.S. team, which plays Nigeria next.
"She can make things happen out of the clear blue sky that can
change the game," U.S. assistant Jay Hoffman said after watching
Marvelous Mercy, as she is known back home, score one goal and
assist on the other in Nigeria's 2-1 win over North Korea in the
Rose Bowl. Example: Early in the second half, Akide took the
ball near the Korean touchline, split two onrushing defenders
and launched a shot from a hopelessly acute angle. The ball
struck goalkeeper Kye Yong Sun on the hand--but with such force
that it ricocheted into the net.
Indeed, Nigeria's Super Falcons may have the most flair of any
team in the Cup. Like most of her teammates, Akide had dyed her
hair green and white (Nigeria's colors) with the help of goalie
Ann Agumanu-Chiejine, a Lagos hairdresser who sports a
Rodmanesque platinum blonde 'do.
Those colors may be just a blur on Thursday, when the Nigerians
plan to run past a not-so-speedy U.S. defense. One thing's for
sure: They won't be lacking in confidence. Asked why North Korea
used five defenders against his team, Nigeria coach Ismaila Mabo
said, "To save themselves from embarrassment."
Q & A
It took Brazilian striker Pretinha two minutes to score the
first of her three goals in a 7-1 thrashing of Mexico last
Saturday in the opening round of the Women's World Cup. When she
isn't flashing her braces-filled smile, Pretinha (pret-CHEEN-ya)
is usually talking, in Portuguese, as she was with SI before
SI: Pretinha. Cool name.
Pretinha: I used to be called Pele, but when I was 15, there was
another girl on my team nicknamed Pele, so I got Pretinha. It
means "little black girl."
SI: That wouldn't fly here.
Pretinha: In Brazil it's no problem.
SI: Are you a big star in Rio?
Pretinha: When I walk the streets, everyone says, "There goes
Pretinha." After the 1996 Olympics [in which she scored four
goals] there was always a big mob asking me for autographs and
pictures. I loved it!
SI: How much are you pulling down on your club team, Vasco da
Pretinha: I make 6,000 reals [about $3,400] a month. It's enough
to buy a condo and a car. I have a nice one: a 1995 Chevy Corsa
SI: Your jersey has four stars on the chest, one for each of
Brazil's men's World Cup titles. If you win the Women's World
Cup, shouldn't the men have to wear a star for the women's team?
Pretinha [laughing]: I'd like that. Then we could have five
stars, and the men would have to wear them too.