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She's Ready for Close-Up

Chastain's injury puts Reddick, at 21, in the U.S. spotlight at World Cup.

September 23, 2003|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The first thing to understand about Catherine Anne Reddick is what she doesn't like.

For example, although she was pleased by a recent Associated Press article about her, she hated the headline that read: "Young Reddick a Cat on the Prowl for United States Defense."

And although she liked the feature on her that appeared in Soccer America magazine this month, she wasn't at all happy that it was boldly labeled: "Cat Power."

Because what Catherine Reddick doesn't like, above all, is being called Cat.

"I'm not an animal," she explained recently.

She probably will have to get used to the nickname, however, because all of a sudden the youngest player on the U.S. team at the fourth FIFA Women's World Cup has been thrust into the international spotlight.

Not only was she called upon Sunday to make her World Cup debut at 21, but the University of North Carolina senior and the only amateur player on the U.S. roster had to take the place of one of the sport's legends, two-time world champion and Olympic gold and silver medalist Brandi Chastain.

With Chastain sidelined for at least two games by a broken bone in her right foot, it will be up to Reddick to help steer the defending world champions into the quarterfinals as they play African champion Nigeria on Thursday in Philadelphia and Asian champion North Korea on Sunday in Columbus, Ohio.

Judging by her performance against Sweden on Sunday, she is more than ready. Almost an hour after the Americans' 3-1 victory, Reddick still was riding an emotional high.

"It was the most amazing experience of my life," she said of stepping onto a World Cup field for the first time. "My heart was pumping. For the first 10 minutes, I couldn't breathe because my heart was beating so fast.

"I thought, 'Oh, my gosh, the crowd is huge, I'm so excited.' It was amazing."

The instructions given to Reddick by Coach April Heinrichs were simple: Stay calm, stay focused.

"She was like, 'It's your turn to go in. Get in tackles, tackle hard, win the headers, mix up the defense for Sweden with the long ball, and be composed. It's your first World Cup, you're going to have a lot of adrenaline, but if you calm down you'll be great.' "

Reddick was calm.

She went into the game just as Sweden was trying to claw its way back from a 2-0 deficit. As U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry put it: "They threw the kitchen sink at us in the second half. We were on our heels."

But Reddick stepped into Chastain's place, alongside veteran Joy Fawcett, in the center of the U.S. defense and, although she might have felt nervous, she played with remarkable poise and assurance.

"Cat, when she came in, I thought was unbelievably composed for someone who probably was not expecting to play today, especially not in the middle," Scurry said. "Joy and Brandi never come out.

"But Cat came in and did just an unbelievable job, much better than I ever could imagine she'd do. I didn't have to yell at her too much today. That's always good."

Team co-captain Julie Foudy echoed the praise.

"I thought she did a phenomenal job," Foudy said. "She has great presence in the air for us. With Brandi you get that, and against the Swedish team you need that. And then she was able to settle the ball down when she did get it. I was very impressed."

Reddick said Chastain, who was on crutches after her first-half injury, had given her the confidence that she could perform at the World Cup level.

"She was like, 'Get out there and do your job. You know what to do,' " Reddick said. "She was just really encouraging."

Heinrichs first coached Reddick when the then-teenager from Birmingham, Ala., made the grade with the U.S. under-16 national team.

"She was a very special player even then," Heinrichs told Soccer America. "She just really reminded me of Brandi Chastain.... They're both good in the air, and Catherine, next to Brandi, is probably the best on the team using both feet."

That comparison was made long before Sunday's game, during which Reddick, in her 37th match for the U.S., inked her name in as the heir apparent to Chastain, 35, who has played 172 matches for the national team.

More recently, Heinrichs extolled the strengths of the North Carolina player, who led the Tar Heels to the 2000 NCAA championship with a dominating performance in the final against UCLA.

"She is strong, powerful, athletic and technically gifted," Heinrichs said. "She's got good speed, she's one of our taller, stronger defenders. She can play central defender or wide back on the left or wide on the right.

"She's one of the top two headers on the team and one of the top two clearers of the ball on the team, the other one being Brandi Chastain.

"She reads the game well. She is very composed when she trains with us, composed when she plays with us, composed in games that we've put her in. She doesn't have overt signs of being nervous, and that helps her have success at the international level for us."

Four years ago, Reddick was simply one of 90,185 fans at the Rose Bowl, watching while Chastain and friends beat China in the final to win the World Cup.

This time around, she might be playing in the final at the Home Depot Center on Oct. 12.

If so, her family and friends will be there, just as they were at RFK Stadium on Sunday.

"I think I had about 50 friends from Chapel Hill, and I had about 40 family come into town," she said, pointing out how she had known exactly where they were sitting in the stadium.

"They had 'Go, Catherine!' signs," she said, "instead of 'Go, Cat!' "

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