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The Naked Truth

With Scurry's Mental Toughness and Experience, the U.S. Is Solid in Goal

June 15, 1999|GRAHAME L. JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There might be a million stories in the naked city, but there's only one naked story in the city of Athens, Ga.

It has to do with Briana Scurry, the starting goalkeeper on the U.S. women's national soccer team that begins its World Cup '99 campaign Saturday against Denmark.

The story goes back a few years, to the 1996 Olympic Games, but that doesn't detract from its appeal.

The way it began was . . . well, since Scurry was so intimately involved, why not let her tell the tale? She wouldn't hide anything from us. Not now. Not three years later.

"Sports Illustrated called me, at my apartment," Scurry began, "at 8 o'clock in the morning, so I'm half-asleep, right?

"And they're like, 'What would you do if you won the gold medal?'

"I said, 'Oh, I'll run naked through the streets of Athens,' hung up the phone and fell back asleep.

"A couple of weeks later, Mr. Hamm, Mia's dad, saw the article that said I would run naked. He was like, 'What's this?' And I'm like, 'What are you talking about?'

"So he showed me the article and I'm like, 'Oh, no, they printed it.' But I didn't think anything of it. It was no big deal. I was just joking, because everyone else said [they'd go to] Disneyland or whatever.

"And so we get to the Olympics and . . . we get to the semifinal and we win [in overtime against Norway] and then the reporters started asking me about it. 'Are you going to run naked?' And I'm like, 'Oh, we've got to beat China first.'

"And then we beat China [to win the gold medal in Athens] and I wasn't even thinking about it and I get to the area where all the media people are and they're like, 'Are you gonna run? Where are you gonna run? What are you gonna do?'

"So I'm like, 'Yeah, I'm going to do it. But I didn't say you could take pictures and I didn't say you could watch.'

"[Later] a friend of my roommate was [at the postgame party] and she got the video camera out, and so we got in my parents' rental car and we went to a real secluded little side street in Athens.

"And I took all my clothes off in the back seat and put a towel on. And I'm sitting there and she's videotaping me freezing my butt off and I'm talking, I forget what I was saying: 'Here I am in the back seat of my car and here's my medal. I'm gonna do it.'

"So I put the medal on, opened the door and took off the towel. I've got nothing on. No socks, nothing. Just the medal. So I ran down from like here to that tree [about 20 yards] and back. Completely deserted area. Two o'clock in the morning.

"People think I'm crazy, but I was like, 'Look. I said it. We won. I did it.'

"Am I going to do it again? No."

*

Needless to say, the United States has never had a goalkeeper quite like Briana Collette Scurry.

The 27-year-old from Minneapolis has been the national team's unquestioned No. 1 for the past five years and in that time has broken virtually all U.S. goalkeeping records.

In 90 games with her in the nets, the U.S has lost only eight times. Her goals-against average is a minute 0.56 and her 49 shutouts are by far the most of any national team goalkeeper.

"I have to give the edge to Bri [over her challengers for the position] because she's won at the highest level," U.S. Coach Tony DiCicco said. "And not only did she win at the highest level, she made key saves all through those Olympic Games for us to win."

It helps, of course, that DiCicco is a former goalkeeper. He might not necessarily be able to teach, say, Tiffeny Milbrett to beat a defender with a head fake one way and a sharp cut the other, but he knows how to show Scurry and backup keepers Saskia Webber and Tracy Ducar exactly where to position themselves on free kicks.

The qualities required of a woman keeper, DiCicco said, are not necessarily the same as men. Height and reach are important, but not as important as other factors.

"What we look for in women goalkeepers might be a little bit different [from men]," DiCicco said, "because I have to look for the players who are athletic. They have to be athletic.

"And the second thing I look for is mental skills, the ability to control your emotions, to make big plays at big times, to stay calm in pressure situations, to deal with mistakes.

"Those are the two toughest things to teach. I think I can teach the techniques and the tactics, but the physical dimension, the athleticism, and the mental dimension are what I look for."

It probably doesn't occur to many fans that women goalkeepers have a more difficult job than men. Fans look at the number of goals scored in women's games and immediately talk about the skill of the forwards.

But that's only half the equation.

"The goal for them [women] is bigger," DiCicco said. "You look at a goalkeeper like [6-foot-4, 202-pound U.S national team keeper] Brad Friedel compared to [5-foot-8, 150-pound] Briana Scurry. Not only is Briana smaller but I'm sure she has a shorter vertical jump than Brad.

"So therefore the goal is bigger. Which I think is good for the women's game. It helps the scoring, it makes for more exciting saves, and so on."

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