By John Philip Wyllie
There will be many familiar faces on the field for the United States when it kicks off its Women’s World Cup title defense Sunday in Washington D.C. against Sweden (broadcast live at 9:30 a.m. on ABC). Four members of the now defunct 2003 San Diego Spirit team are expected to play important roles in the tournament. Central defender, Joy Faw-cett, attacking midfielder, Aly Wagner and midfielder Julie Foudy will fill starting roles while former San Pasqual High star Shannon MacMillan, will more likely return to the “super sub” role she played in the ’96 Olympics and ’99 Women’s World Cup.
MacMillan’s presence on the team is nothing short of extraordinary considering that she underwent major knee reconstruction in late May to repair an ACL tear. Armed with little more than dogged determination and an unyielding faith, Mac-Millan willed herself back on the team by completely devoting herself to a rigorous rehabilitation process.
“The knee feels great,” MacMillan said while preparing for the tournament last month at the Arco Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista last. “I think I am actually stronger now. I did a lot of weight training out here and a lot of fitness work.”
In just four months Mac-Millan recovered from an injury that generally requires at least six months to heal. Her unexpected return to the national team in time for the World Cup is being hailed as nothing short of remarkable. It is just another in a long line of remarkable achievements for MacMillan, who grew up in Escondido and resides now in La Jolla.
In 2002, the fleet-footed striker known for her powerful shot, was named the Chevy U.S. Soccer Player of the Year. Her 17 goals last year set the pace for the U.S. side that went 15-5-2 in international competition. It is easy to see why Coach April Heinrichs wanted MacMillan in her lineup. How she will be used remains to be seen.
“I want to be able to make an impact either as a sub or (by doing) whatever it takes,” MacMillan said. “I am willing to do whatever this team needs from me to win, but I think you have to train to be a sub first and then build up the fitness from there.”
The United States won the ‘99 World Cup by the smallest of margins, edging China in penalty kicks after playing 120 minutes of scoreless soccer on a brutally hot day at the Rose Bowl. The competition has improved substantially since then, so repeating as World Cup champions will not be easy.
Burdened with the toughest draw in the tournament, the U.S. will open with Sweden on Sunday, September 21 (9:30 a.m. PDT on ABC). Next, it will face Nigeria (Sept. 25 at 4:30 p.m. PDT ESPN2) and conclude the opening round with North Korea (September 28 at 12:45 PDT on ABC). Favored to survive group play, the U.S., if it advances, will play an undetermined opponent in the quarterfinals (Oct 1 or 2). With success there, it will play in the semifinals on October 5. The winners advance to the championship game on October 12 at the beautiful new Home Depot Center Stadium in Carson, California. The quarterfinals and semifinals will be broadcast live on ESPN2. The Women’s World Cup final will be broadcast live on ABC at 10:00 a.m. on October 12.
While the U.S. remains the favorite, China, Germany, Norway, Brazil, Sweden and North Korea should provide stiff competition. Mexico, which qualified in 1999, failed to do so this time around despite fielding a stronger team.
“To win, it is going to take all 20 players being ready to go,” MacMillan said. “We will have to take it one game at a time. It is going to be awesome to play it here in the United States again. We will have that home field advantage going for us again, but it will still be hard. I think it will be much tougher than it was in 1999.”