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U.S. Backers Are Birds of a Feather

Sobrero's fiance, future in-laws show support in unique fashion for the World Cup team, which plays Nigeria tonight.

September 25, 2003|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — It was at Foggy Bottom, or thereabouts, that the Indian chief, replete with feathered headdress and a blue, long-tailed smock coat with red-and-white-striped cuffs, boarded the Metro train.

He was accompanied by Spiderwoman and a large man wearing tartan trousers, a painted face and an electric-blue fright wig.

And then there was the scantily clad chap sporting a very flimsy pair of United States flag shorts, a glittering silver vest bearing the embroidered letters USA, with a red, white and blue bow tie around his naked neck and the entire ensemble topped off by a peaked cap of similarly star-spangled hues.

"Going to the game?" a fellow passenger deadpanned.

Yes, indeed, Kate Sobrero's future in-laws were going to the game. Some in fancy dress and some, perhaps less bold, simply wearing the defender's white No. 15 U.S. jersey.

The man in the risque shorts was Chris Markgraf, Sobrero's fiance. The rest of the odd assemblage was made up of his family and friends.

The Women's World Cup had come to Washington, and if spectacle was needed, the Markgrafs, all the way from Milwaukee, along with assorted other Sobrero aficionados, were willing to provide it.

Color them patriotic. Color them crazy quilt. Whatever the color, they were having fun. That was the point Sunday and that will be the point tonight.

Having disposed of Sweden, 3-1, in their first match, Sobrero and the rest of the U.S. team this evening take on Nigeria at Philadelphia, knowing that a victory at Lincoln Financial Field will all but secure them a place in the quarterfinals.

The Nigerians were beaten by North Korea, 3-0, on Saturday, and the African champions' backs will be against the wall, with hungry, growling noises beyond. Striker Mercy Akide and her teammates, already well-known for their crunching style of play, will not go down without a fight.

Still, the U.S. World Cup express already is running like a well-oiled machine, the temporary derailment of defender Brandi Chastain notwithstanding.

Kristine Lilly, Cindy Parlow and Shannon Boxx have their first 2003 World Cup goals in the bag. Mia Hamm, Tiffeny Milbrett and Abby Wambach are ready to grab theirs. The U.S. team has its game face in place. Four years is a long time between titles.

There are 15 other teams taking part in the tournament, however, and Hamm was quick to point that out after the opening victory.

"This isn't the USA's World Cup," she said. "This is the Women's World Cup. It's a celebration of every single soccer player that's here in this tournament and of those who play all over the world."

True, and if the Americans' names are written on the trophy, they will have to get past some formidable opponents by the time the final is played Oct. 12 at the Home Depot Center at Carson.

The way the tournament is shaping up, the U.S. will face Brazil or Norway in the quarterfinals. After that, it probably will play Germany in the semifinals and China in the final. It is not an easy route.

"Our goal in this tournament is to take one step at a time, one game at a time and three points at a time," Coach April Heinrichs said after Sweden had been subdued. "We came out of this game with three points and a big smile on our face.

"We've taken one very positive step today."

Heinrichs' Nigerian counterpart, Samuel Okpodu, is in the unenviable position of having to tell his players, just beaten by the Asian champions, not to worry, it's only the world champions who are up next.

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