Time for last hurrah
By Michelle Kaufman
Aug 10, 2004
(miamiherald.com) - Eight years ago, in Athens, GA, in the wee hours of an August morning, U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry ran down Milledge Avenue naked, wearing only her gold medal. A friend with a video camera was there to record the moment.
Scurry had made the silly vow months before the 1996 Olympics, and kept her promise when the Americans beat rival China 2-1 in front of 76,481.
There are no such promises this summer as the U.S. team settles into the better-known Athens for what will be an emotional final hurrah for the team's core quintet. Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett, Brandi Chastain and Kristine Lilly were members of the unheralded 1991 Women's World Cup team and the much-celebrated 1999 World Cup team that captured the nation's heart and drew record crowds wherever it went. They all plan to retire after the Olympics.
But first, they would like to restore U.S. supremacy after settling for a silver medal at the 2000 Olympics and third place at the 2003 World Cup. The United States plays its first game today against host Greece, among the few events taking place before Friday's Opening Ceremonies.
''We want to leave on top, go out with a bang,'' said Fawcett, a 36-year-old mother of three who is the oldest member of the U.S. team.
16 YEARS FOR HAMM
Hamm, 32, has scored 149 international goals, more than any other American player, male or female. She played her first match in a U.S. jersey 16 years ago, when the youngest members of this Olympic team were still in diapers. She says ''it's time'' to hang up the shoes and begin a family with her husband, Chicago Cubs star Nomar Garciaparra.
''There was no group of people more disappointed with what happened last summer than the group of players and the coaching staff,'' Hamm said. ``The standards we set for ourselves are extremely high, and we want to go out on a winning note. But I don't want the younger players to think they have to win it for us. They should play for themselves.''
Added Foudy: 'Going to the Olympics is emotional enough. If I started thinking about it being our last time together, I'd be over the top. We've really tried to stay away from `this is our last practice together' or 'this is our last breakfast together,' you know, those kinds of ideas. We are just looking forward to a great month over in Greece and having a ball. When we're having fun, we're doing well.''
As much as the players try to downplay the retirement angle, U.S. coach April Heinrichs realizes this Olympic appearance is about more than a medal. It is the end of an era for American women's soccer.
''We all know the legacy these players are leaving,'' Heinrichs said. ``We know the last five years in U.S. soccer can be directly attributed to our senior players. We know the legacy is ongoing and that it will be incredibly difficult to replace all those players.''
It also will be incredibly difficult for the United States to win a gold medal. The rest of the world has been catching up, and for the first time, the Americans are not considered the favorites. Olympic champion Norway did not qualify, but the field includes Sweden, China and 2003 World Cup champion Germany, which ousted the United States in the semifinals. Brazil also is a dangerous first-round opponent.
The loss to Germany in the World Cup semifinals last fall remains fresh on the minds of the American players, and there is a chance they will meet in the semifinals again.
''We were just doing set pieces the other day in training during one of our last days in L.A., and within that practice, we brought up the Germany game four different times,'' Foudy said. ``We talked about examples of when they scored their goal against us, the first one, and a second goal against us. I think it's a great motivator. It's something that is special about this team. There's always a lesson you can extract from a loss.''
Team USA is not the dominant force it once was, and Foudy blames the growth of the game internationally.
''The world around us is getting better, the countries around us,'' she said. ``We've always known that the gap, that was once a little bit wider, is closing. We have tremendous respect for those other countries. I think it's a good sign that women's soccer, which in some areas of the world was frowned upon, is finally starting to be culturally accepted. We've seen places that, traditionally, didn't promote women's soccer are funding it.
``I mean, Mexico being in the Olympics for the first time is a great example. They're now funding a women's program and spending a lot of energy and money on the youth programs, as well, for girls. But sure, [restoring their reputation as world leaders] is something we talk about a lot.
``It doesn't matter if it's our last Olympics or if it was our first. We want to do well.''
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