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Her Time and Team

Shannon Boxx finds spot on U.S. World Cup roster

September 01, 2003|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

The young woman from Redondo Beach who somehow fell through the cracks today lands on her feet.

Shannon Boxx, defensive midfielder, United States Women's World Cup team, this evening pulls on a U.S. national team jersey for the first time. She has waited years for this moment.

Brandi Chastain, better known for pulling off a U.S. jersey, says it's about time.

"When we started our last training camp, I went straight away to [team captain] Julie [Foudy] and said we have to find a way to make sure that she's on this roster," Chastain said as the United States prepared for tonight's 8 o'clock match against Costa Rica at the Home Depot Center.

Boxx's season-long accomplishments with the New York Power of the Women's United Soccer Assn. and her immediate comfort level with the defending world champions were what convinced Chastain that Boxx, 26, had to be on the U.S. team.

"She's a player who is on the upswing of a wonderful season and I think there can be a continuation of that into the World Cup," Chastain said.

"She's got power and grace, and she's balancing those two. You don't find too many players who can do that."

Considering the 18-year history of the women's national team, Boxx is a late-bloomer indeed.

Mia Hamm was 15 when she made her debut. Kristine Lilly was 16 and Foudy was 17. In all, 12 players on the roster of 20 for the Sept. 20-Oct 12 World Cup first played for the U.S. as teenagers.

Boxx, in other words, has overcome the odds; why she fell through the cracks is perplexing.

"She just did," said U.S. defender Kate Sobrero, Boxx's former teammate at Notre Dame. "If you're in the 24 to 27, 28 age bracket, you're not a young player and you're not an old player, and a lot of time coaches want to develop the young players.

"It was just bad timing. But in the end it didn't matter. She's here now."

Added Chastain: "She may be just young enough that '99 was too early and then WUSA came around at the right time for her to get played in over the last three seasons."

Boxx was drafted by the San Diego Spirit and played for the Spirit in 2001 and 2002, then was traded to the Power.

"Being moved from San Diego to New York really forced her to become more of a standout player, be more in the eye, do more for her team," Chastain said. "I think she's done a wonderful job. She's very talented."

All the same, doing well in WUSA is vastly different from playing in a World Cup against the likes of China, Brazil, Germany and Norway. The jump in expectations and demands is sizable.

But when Coach April Heinrichs began seeking someone to add a little defensive steel to the U.S. midfield, a player who was unafraid to get stuck in but still had the technical skills to be more than simply a destructive force, Boxx became the answer.

"She's so hard to play against," Sobrero said.

"She's so strong and physical in the middle, she's such a tough defender. But at the same time, after she can go 100% and win the ball and be aggressive, the minute she wins it, she calms down and is able to play and play-make. And that's a strong talent to have.

"It's great to have someone with heart, but then to have someone who is actually very good with the ball at her feet, it's a great combination."

Boxx didn't believe that she had a chance to make the World Cup roster. Instead, she was hoping to be on the U.S. team for the 2004 Athens Olympics. When Heinrichs told her she had made it, her reaction was genuine.

"I was pretty surprised and pretty shocked, but it was the greatest thing," she said. "I had the biggest smile on my face, I think, because I didn't expect it. And so it was even that much better.

"I think what she likes about me is my hardness, my toughness, my strength, my size. If it comes down to a game where we need to be winning any kind of ball in the midfield, tackling, heading, that kind of presence, I think that's when she'll call on me."

That call probably will come tonight against Costa Rica, and it won't be a moment too soon.

"We haven't been told [the lineup], but I'm hoping," Boxx said. "I haven't had an international game. I need that cap before I get to the World Cup to give me a little bit more confidence."


The Facts

* What: International women's soccer friendly.

* Who: United States vs. Costa Rica.

* Where: Home Depot Center.

* When: Tonight, 8.

* Why: Next-to-last warmup game for the defending world champion U.S. before this month's World Cup.

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