Scurry the rock behind U.S. roll

Soccer: While Mia Hamm and others usually draw the headlines, the Americans point at their overshadowed keeper as a major key in their run.

July 07, 1999|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Given a choice, Briana Scurry would just as soon see the U.S. team put up five or six goals against China in the Women's World Cup championship game Saturday at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

Like everyone else, Scurry, the team's goalkeeper, knows that the Americans' best chance against the powerful Chinese lies with Mia Hamm, Tiffeny Milbrett, Michelle Akers & Co. scoring as much as possible.

But, like anyone else who has paid even a little attention to the world of women's soccer, Scurry knows the chances of the U.S. team racking up a big goal total at this stage of the World Cup aren't good.

That type of opportunity ended with the conclusion of preliminary-round play two weeks ago.

China, which blasted defending World Cup champion Norway, 5-0, to reach the final, isn't Australia, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria or Canada. Ranked the second-best team in the world, it's out to prove it's No. 1.

For the Americans to realize their dream and capture the World Cup, Scurry, who's been their most overlooked star, is likely going to have to play brilliantly again.

"Yes, we score a lot of goals," said U.S. coach Tony DiCicco, whose team advanced to the finals by beating Brazil, 2-0, Sunday at Stanford Stadium.

"There's no denying that. But I've said it time after time, you cannot win a World Cup or major championship without having a world-class goalie. The United States has one.

"I've said all along that Bri could be the world's best keeper. She's certainly proved that she's the best in this Cup. That's why we're in the final. We needed her against Germany. We needed her [against Brazil]. And we'll need her in the final."

It's odd that a keeper who has represented her country in 94 inter national matches, posted 52 career shutouts -- including three in this World Cup -- and won an Olympic gold medal could get lost in the shuffle.

But that often is the case for Scurry, who joined the national team in 1994 and became the No. 1 keeper within a year.

When the United States is lighting up the scoreboard with four, five or six goals, the importance of the keeper often seems insignificant.

"I don't mind that," said Scurry, 27, a University of Massachusetts graduate from Dayton, Minn. "I love it when we're scoring a lot of goals. I'd rather have an incredibly boring game. I'd rather not have any shots to stop."

But it hasn't been that kind of Cup for Scurry, at least not since the Americans dusted Nigeria, 7-1, in their second match.

In a match to determine the winner of Group A, Scurry had to pitch a shutout against North Korea for 56 minutes before her teammates put in three goals.

In an elimination-game quarterfinal match against Germany, Scurry, who has been beaten for goals just twice in the Cup, overcame a shocking own-goal and a goal seconds before halftime as the United States rallied to win, 3-2.

Against Brazil, Scurry lived up to her nickname, "The Rock," with six saves, several of the spectacular variety.

"She rocks," veteran U.S. midfielder Michelle Akers said. "Bri rocks. Every time I hear someone calling for the ball coming across the box or there's a breakaway and Bri's coming after it, I have total confidence that she's going to get it and save the day for us. She has consistently done that throughout this World Cup."

DiCicco said the team's confidence in Scurry gives it the freedom to press its attack.

"Thank God Bri is on our team," said Hamm, the No. 1 goal scorer in international soccer history. "If there's a breakdown, we know Bri is going to be there for us. That allows us to be free to push forward and take chances."

Regaining the World Cup, which the United States won at the inaugural tournament in 1991, but lost in 1995, has been the only focus of the Americans. But Scurry might just want it a little more than everyone else.

World Cup '95 was Scurry's first major international competition as the No. 1 keeper. She had to sit out one game after being ejected against Australia, but far worse to her was the lone goal she gave up to Norway in the semifinals that ended the U.S. reign.

And while none of her teammates blamed her for the 1-0 loss, Scurry, as the keeper, shouldered a self-imposed responsibility that even the 1996 Olympic gold medal couldn't make her forget.

"This means a lot to me," she said of reaching Saturday's title game. "I felt a big weight on my shoulders in '95 because I wasn't able to keep Norway off the scoreboard and get us into the final. I felt horrible having to watch [Norway] play another team [in the final]. It feels great for me.

"I had to do my job. Other teams don't usually get a lot of opportunities against us, but the ones they do get are usually pretty decent ones.

"I always have to be ready. I'm just glad I could come through when the times were tough. I felt like I earned my money [against Brazil], so to speak, and helped my team win."

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