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U.S. Defense Seeks 'Cover'

Led by veteran Fawcett, Americans will try to break apart Germans' organized attack. Their semifinal match is being called 'the real final.'

October 05, 2003|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

PORTLAND, Ore. — For Germany, the road to the Women's World Cup final runs right through, over or around Joy Fawcett. Those who think Fawcett is worried about that should think again.

"She doesn't get rattled," midfielder Julie Foudy said Saturday.

"She's been the best defender in the world for several years, but it's only now that she's getting the recognition," added former coach Tony DiCicco.

"When she speaks, we listen," said teammate Catherine Reddick.

It's easy to tell that the World Cup semifinals are at hand; the sound bites are getting shorter and the nerves are getting tauter.

This afternoon, the United States, the defending world champion, plays European champion Germany in a game many people are calling "the real final" of the 16-nation tournament, while Canada and Sweden play each other in the second half of the doubleheader.

The Germans come into the match with the best offensive record in the world championship, having won all four of their games and having outscored their opponents, 20-3.

They are averaging five goals a game, and in striker Birgit Prinz, 25, they have the tournament's leading scorer, with six goals to her credit.

The U.S., on the other hand, boasts the best defense. Three shutouts in four victories and only one goal allowed attests to the combined talents of the back four of Fawcett, Reddick, Kate Sobrero and Christie Pearce, not to mention defensive midfielder Shannon Boxx and goalkeeper Briana Scurry.

It is Fawcett the Germans will remember, however, and not with any great fondness.

In the 1999 Women's World Cup, the teams met in the quarterfinals at Landover, Md., and Germany twice had the lead. Twice the Americans came back to tie, and it was Fawcett who applied the coup de grace in a 3-2 U.S. victory, heading in the winning goal off a Shannon MacMillan corner kick.

"I remember everyone being confident that even though we were down, we would be able to come back," Fawcett said Saturday. "The goal was one I'll never forget -- Mac coming in and taking that corner, and knowing that she was going to rocket it at my head and thinking I'd better get something on it."

Fawcett, a mother of three from Rancho Santa Margarita, is 35. She has been playing the game at the highest level for 16 years, winning two world championships and Olympic gold and silver medals in the process.

Midfielder Kristine Lilly has been a teammate throughout that time and remains in awe.

"Joy is one of the most consistent players I've ever seen," Lilly said Saturday. "She doesn't lead with her voice, she leads by example. The feeling you get when you know Joy's there is comfort. You know that things are going to be OK. She's an amazing soccer player."

Reddick, on the other hand, is a relative rookie, the youngest player on the U.S. team but a starter ever since Brandi Chastain's injury in the opening game. She is equally amazed by Fawcett.

"A lot of people say she's the glue that holds this back line together and she definitely is," Reddick said. "She is what keeps us so tight and so together. I admire her for everything that she's done. Just to be able to play alongside her is one of the best experiences of my life, because I respect her more than I respect a lot of people.

"She reads the game very well. To me, she never makes a mistake. She probably thinks that she makes a mistake every time she touches the ball. But I look at her and I just think that she's so incredible. She knows what the forward is going to do before the forward actually knows herself.

"I have a little more confidence knowing that she's back there to cover for me."

Today's game will give the U.S. back line its stiffest test of the tournament, with Fawcett and friends having to contend with the attacking forays of not only Prinz, but also of Bettina Wiegmann, Maren Meinert and Kerstin Garefrekes, among others.

Sobrero knows well what is in store for the U.S. defense.

"Bettina's one of the best center midfielders in the world in terms of her distribution and her possession," she said. "Meinert can tear apart any defense with her one-on-one ability and her accurate passing.

"Birgit can run you over and stick the ball in the net. She's very skillful. She's a force to deal with. She's kind of like their version of our 'Twin Towers,' Cindy [Parlow] and Abby [Wambach].

"You stop them with just good individual defending and also good team defense, by just having good shape, always having cover for one another."

Cover is the operative word for the U.S. today. Fawcett also used it.

"I think they're just tactically a well-put-together team and organized, so we're going to have to break them down," she said of the Germans, for whom Prinz is the greatest threat.

"You just try to keep track of her and make sure you always have cover," Fawcett said. "When one defender goes out, you've got to make sure you have cover, because she's very good at spinning off of the first player.

"It's going to be a great game to watch."

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

The Fawcett File

Born Joy Biefeld on Feb. 8, 1968, in Inglewood.

* Holds world record for most international appearances by a defender (220).

* Scored World Cup goals against Chinese Taipei (1991), Australia (1995) and Germany (1999).

* Played every minute of U.S. games in the 1995 and 1999 World Cups and the 1996 Olympics.

* Played three seasons for the San Diego Spirit of the WUSA and was voted the league's top defender in 2003.

* Named top high school player (Huntington Beach Edison) in Southern California by The Times in 1985 and set school scoring records while leading California to two third-place NCAA finishes.

* Coached UCLA from 1993 to '97, leading the Bruins to the NCAA quarterfinals in her final season.

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