By John Philip Wyllie
A trio of former San Diego Spirit players played a major role for the United States in Sunday’s impressive Women’s World Cup opening game victory over fifth ranked Sweden at Washington D.C.’s RFK Stadium. Shannon Boxx, the national team’s newest member, scored the game-sealing goal in the 78th minute and savvy veterans Julie Foudy and Joy Fawcett, playing in their fourth and probably last Women’s World Cup, made a number of key plays.
The U.S. opened the scoring in the 28th minute when Kristine Lilly, the world’s most capped player, took a Mia Hamm pass and buried it into the upper left corner.
“There is nothing like a goal that rips the back of the net off,” said Lilly’s coach, April Heinrichs.
Foudy set the play in motion finding Cindy Parlow with a well-placed pass. Parlow in turn, found Abby Wambach and Wambach connected with Hamm who got the assist. The U.S. struck again eight minutes later when Hamm directed a corner kick to towering Cindy Parlow. Parlow out-jumped the shorter Swedish players surrounding her and deposited Hamm’s pass in the back of the net for the game’s second goal.
Sweden, which showed signs of a dangerous attack all day, connected on their only goal of the match at the 58-minute mark of the second half. Victoria Svensson collected a ball that the U.S. defense was attempting to clear. Spotting goalkeeper Briana Scurry off of her line, she skillfully lofted the ball over her to cut the U.S. lead in half. The highly regarded Swedes pressured the U.S. goal repeatedly, but Scurry seemed to anticipate their every shot. The U.S. back-line, led by another Spirit player, Fawcett, did a good job of harassing the potent Swedish attack. On several occasions, Fawcett darted in at the last possible instant to clear a potentially dangerous opportunity.
Boxx, who played two years in San Diego before being dealt to the New York Power last season, played like a seasoned veteran in what was her World Cup debut. She cemented the victory in the 78th minute when she scored on header off another Hamm corner kick. She also disrupted the Swedish attack from start to finish. Surrounded by an ocean of reporters, Boxx told them that she never expected to even make the U.S. World Cup Team, let alone start on it. Her inclusion seemed like such an unlikely possibility that she purchased tickets in May to see the opening round of the tournament in Carson, California.
Foudy, who had her own army of reporters scribbling down her every word, spoke about the importance of the WUSA as a means of uncovering players like Boxx and her hopes for the league’s survival.
“We can get this going again,” Foudy said. “I’m encouraged because we are getting a tremendous response from companies that are saying we can’t let this die. They are asking us, what is the sponsorship gap? It’s only a question of finding 2.5 million from eight sponsors and we have a league. When you look at it, that doesn’t seem like an impossible task.” The key to the league’s survival in Foudy’s mind is corporate America, but she is urging individual soccer fans to get involved as well.
Foudy hopes that fans will: 1. Start letter writing campaigns to potential sponsors such a sporting goods and women’s product manufacturers. 2. Make and bring “Save the WUSA” Tee-shirts and banners to the World Cup matches 3. Advertise the plight of the league on websites and, 4. Make their voices heard at the remaining World Cup matches.
“There are a lot of people who care about this league,” Foudy said. “I see it every day when I interact with these kids.”
The USA played Nigeria in game two of the Women’s World Cup Thursday night in Philadelphia. Results were unknown at press time. They close out the first round in Columbus, Ohio against Asian champion North Korea on Sunday, September 28 at 12:45 on ABC and then in all likelihood advance to the quarterfinals.