Hamm asserts herself early in World Cup
Posted: Monday June 21, 1999 11:25 AM
EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (AP) -- Trotting around the Giants Stadium field, saluting the largest crowd to see a women's sporting event in this country, the U.S. soccer team was missing someone: Mia Hamm.
No big deal. Having Hamm in the lineup is much more crucial than having her around for celebrations like the one that followed a 3-0 victory over Denmark in the Women's World Cup opener Saturday.
Hamm did wave to the record gathering of 78,972. She clapped her hands above her head in tribute. But she also headed quickly to the locker room after both her calves cramped late in the game.
The subsequent victory lap was one of the few things the Americans did well without their star striker, who scored once and set up another goal.
"There will be games where my team needs someone to light a fire," Hamm said. "Maybe it will be me, or Kristine (Lilly) or Julie (Foudy). That's what is great about this team. I wouldn't be the player I am without this team. They are the ones who make players like me."
Perhaps. Lilly and Foudy did score, after all. But they didn't set the tone against the Danes. Hamm, the sport's career goal-scoring leader, did.
"Up until the first goal, we really weren't playing our game," said Cindy Parlow, one of the main culprits in not converting her opportunities on Saturday. "We were playing a lot of defense, and they were getting in [a threatening position]. And then we get one chance, and Mia puts it away. That's a veteran player for you.
"She settled everyone down. She scored the important goal. I think that did a lot for us. It relaxed us all. It was like, `OK, we can do this.'"
What they want to do next is beat Nigeria in Chicago on Thursday night. That would clinch a spot in the quarterfinals -- and a place in the 2000 Olympics, as well.
First, though, they're entitled to look back at the opener, which they hope was a harbinger for the tournament and women's soccer in general.
"It was just a very, very proud moment for us and for our sport," Hamm said of playing before the largest crowd for a sports event at Giants Stadium "We still have a long way to go to win the Cup, and it's not going to be easy, but what a great first day."
Added Brandi Chastain, whose long pass to Hamm led to the first goal:
"It does something to you inside. Your heart beats a littler harder and you stand a little taller, and it lets you know the people out there really acknowledge what you do."
What Hamm usually does is establish the tone of a game, something she did perfectly against Denmark. While most of her teammates appeared nervous early on, Hamm was dominant. On her second touch of the game, she accepted a long pass from Chastain with her right foot. Immediately, Hamm tapped the ball around defender Katrine Pedersen and onto her left foot for a blast into the top of the net.
"I think a personality player is like what Mia was today," coach Tony DiCicco said. "She wanted the responsibility. She wanted the ball. She wanted the responsibility of feeding the players in the best area for a shot, or taking the shot herself.
"That's the quality of player and person Mia is. As a coach, you can't measure how important it is for your star player to be such a leader and a character person."
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