As scorer recharges, Mia's mob shrieks on

Coach: Hamm tired, but goals will come


CLAREMONT, Calif. -- It is safe to say that no one from the cast of "On the Waterfront" had ever watched the women's national soccer team practice until Karl Malden showed up yesterday, along with about 2,000 members of The Sopranos, those adolescent warblers in full-throated Mia mania.

The players needed a police escort in and out of practice at Pomona College, lest they be trampled by the Nickelodeon mob.

A trio of cops even escorted reporters from one end of the field to the other, a sign either that the Women's World Cup has begun to take itself too seriously or Southern California's crime rate is suddenly less threatening than that of Mayberry RFD.

Judging from the shrieking chorus, most people had come to see forward Mia Hamm and to get her to sign her name to anything. As much as she continues to protest, "This World Cup is not about me," the more it becomes apparent that, yes, it is.

She is the name and face that everyone knows. It is her jersey the little girls wear. It is her lack of scoring in the last three games that has everyone wondering whether the Americans are capable of beating the surging Chinese tomorrow in the World Cup final before 90,000 fans at the Rose Bowl.

"I'm not worried," said coach Tony DiCicco. "I expect her to be a big-time scoring threat in the final. I hope she gets a couple."

Yesterday, Hamm was one of five Americans named to the all-tournament team.

While that was a debatable selection, it's not as if she has played poorly. But, clearly, she has not been able to maintain the dominance of her first two matches, when she delivered a goal and assist against both Denmark and Nigeria and fully deserved to be called the world's greatest player.

She continues to run hard, to track back on defense, to offer wicked corner kicks, to threaten on free kicks and to attract defenders, which in turn unleashes her free-range teammates.

It was Hamm's furious sprint that caused Brazil to drag her down in the penalty area in the semifinals, which led to defensive midfielder Michelle Akers' penalty kick and the security of a 2-0 lead.

"She's had an impact on every game," said assistant coach Lauren Gregg. "She's been one of our most consistent players the whole tournament."

True, but as the leading international scorer in the history of the game with 111 goals, it is her primary job to put the ball into the net. For three matches, while China's Sun Wen has been doing exactly that, Hamm has gone silent.

DiCicco said the reason is her legs. After four games in 11 days, he said, Hamm had become tired and has been using this week to refill her tank. He also said that Hamm and other front-runners need to be getting more and better passes from the midfield.

"I think I've done some really good things in this tournament," Hamm said. "Offensively, people say I haven't been as consistent. But I thought the German game was one of my better defensive games. I'm OK with the way things are going. I need to stay positive and keep motivated for Saturday."

NOTE: Hamm, Akers, also is in her third World Cup, and three other Americans were named to the 1999 Women's World Cup All-Star team: goalkeeper Briana Scurry and defenders Brandi Chastain and Carla Overbeck.

Seven Chinese players were selected: forward Sun Wen, tied for first as the tournament's leading scorer with seven goals, and goalkeeper Gao Hong, who has allowed only two goals in five games. Forward Jin Yan also was selected, as were midfielders Liu Ailing and Zhao Lihong, and defenders Wang Liping and Wen Lirong.

Women's World Cup

Tomorrow's championship

At Pasadena, Calif.

United States vs. China, 3: 50 p.m., Chs. 2, 7

Pub Date: 7/09/99

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