Advertisement

ATHENS 2004

Last Shot Before Passing the Torch

The U.S. women's soccer team meets Brazil tonight in the gold-medal match.

August 26, 2004|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — When Mia Hamm stood on the podium at Guangzhou, China, on Nov. 30, 1991, to receive the first of her three gold medals in World Cup and Olympics play, Heather O'Reilly was 6 years old.

Monday night, at Heraklion on the island of Crete, it was an overtime goal by O'Reilly off a pass from Hamm that gave the United States a semifinal soccer victory over world champion Germany and put the Americans into tonight's gold-medal match against Brazil.

Figuratively speaking, the torch had been passed -- Hamm to O'Reilly, yesterday to tomorrow.

Tonight, at Karaiskaki Stadium, Hamm, 32, and teammates Joy Fawcett, 36, and Julie Foudy, 33, will play their final international match. It could also be the swan song for two other 1991 veterans, Brandi Chastain, 36, and Kristine Lilly, 33.

After that, it will be up to O'Reilly, 19, and the new generation of players to carry the U.S. forward.

"What these women have done for the last 10 years, even more than that, has really been so remarkable, and this is it for some of them," O'Reilly said. "As young players, we wouldn't be happy in sending them out with anything but a gold."

Brazil will have more than a little to say about that.

When the teams met in the first round, the U.S. won, 2-0, but only after the South Americans had dominated the scoreless first half. The U.S. adopted a more physical approach in the second 45 minutes -- far too physical, claimed Brazil Coach Rene Simoes, who complained of "dirty" play by the Americans -- and won on goals by Hamm and Abby Wambach.

The Brazilians, the most technically skilled team here, could adopt a more rugged style tonight to show that they too can dish it out, or they could stick to the creative, unpredictable, slick-passing style that was nearly the Americans' undoing the last time out.

The Americans are 17-1-2 against the Brazilians, their only loss a 1-0 defeat at Sao Paulo in 1997.

Brazil's women have never reached the final of a world event, adding pressure to Simoes' side, but the quality of his team, and of the Swedish and German teams that will play for the bronze medal immediately before the final, was acknowledged by U.S. Coach April Heinrichs.

"I truly believe that the final four is representative of the four best teams in the world today," she said. "Sweden, Brazil, the U.S. and Germany are just phenomenal teams, and all of these teams have taken it to a new level."

Fawcett, Foudy and Hamm are ready to relinquish the spotlight. "The younger kids give so much, but we cast a large shadow so they don't get a lot of the attention," Foudy said, "and yet they deserve so much attention."

After tonight, the spotlight will shift to the youngsters.

Foudy, whose starting role is in doubt because of a foot injury -- she came off crutches Wednesday -- was succinct when asked about this being the veterans' last hurrah after 16 years together.

"We try not to think about it too much," she said. "We'd be a wreck."

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|