Inexplicably, the federation's choice appears to be University of Portland coach Clive Charles, whose under-20 teams finished no better than third at the Nordic Cup in three tries. Charles was also an assistant during the U.S. men's spectacular failure at the 1998 World Cup. Hiring this Gene Mauch of American soccer would only cement the federation's rep as an old-boy network. "Lauren would give the team the best chance of winning at the Olympics," says DiCicco, "and the one-two punch of [winning] the World Cup and the Olympics could launch the sport to the next level—a pro league."
As DiCicco and the American women well know, the federation quashed the last serious attempt to form a women's pro league, in 1997, but its support will be crucial if such a league is to get off the ground in 2001. Here's hoping U.S. Soccer doesn't kick away an opportunity to advance U.S. women's soccer.
LEON SMITH'S NEXT STEP
A Toy Gun and a Second Chance
This can't be how Leon Smith pictured NBA fame. The Mavericks' $1.45 million rookie reportedly said as much while he rammed Vanessa Pondexter's Saturn with his Chevy Blazer last month, shouting, "F—- the NBA! F—- the Mavericks! F—- the union! F—- the hospital! F—- the $15 million! Things were a whole lot better before all this s—-."
Smith, a 19-year-old raised in Chicago group homes, has squeezed a feature-length film into the six months since he graduated from Martin Luther King High. He skipped college to enter the NBA draft; got picked 29th in the first round, by the Spurs; was traded to Dallas the same day; stormed out of the first day of the Mavericks' rookie camp; had several shouting matches with assistant coach Donn Nelson during summer league games; and got barred from Dallas's practices after refusing assignment to a European or developmental league. And that's just the prologue.
On Nov. 14 Smith, who was then on the Mavs' injured list, slathered his face with green war paint, penned two suicide notes and downed 250 aspirin tablets. After a brief hospital stay he was put in the care of the player assistance program in Atlanta run jointly by the NBA and its players' association. But the program is voluntary, and Smith bolted. He was back in Dallas by the end of the month. On Dec. 1 he turned up outside Chicago's Marshall High, where he allegedly threatened Cappie Pondexter—Vanessa's daughter and his former girlfriend—with a revolver. Following a night in jail, Chicago police say, he trashed Vanessa's car, violating an order of protection she had obtained the day before that barred Smith from having any contact with her or her daughter.
As with the best Hollywood dramas, however, there's more to Smith's story man meets the eye. According to police reports, the gun he allegedly waved at Cap-pie was a toy, and sources say the 1999 Saturn he allegedly smashed into was bought with money from his NBA contract Smith has since shown a desire to get help by checking into a Dallas psychiatric hospital. One thing though—he skipped a Chicago court date to do it, becoming one of the few people to jump bail to seek psychiatric help.
Now it appears there might be a happy ending for Smith. Players' association head Billy Hunter and Landon Cox, Smith's coach at King, have arranged for him to live with former Michael Jordan bodyguard Fred Sheppard after his release from the hospital this week. Smith will also start working out with former NBA players, including Moses Malone—who left Petersburg (Va.) High for the ABA when he was 19—and Purvis Short. "Leon knows he has done some very immature things and mat he must pay for them," says Cox. "Fred will be my eyes and ears as we try to help Leon."
BASEBALL HALL OF FAME
Tony Perez already has the numbers. On Tuesday the Big Red Machine's power hitter will find out if he has time on his side, too. "People have been calling me, telling me it may be my year," says Perez, a seven-time All-Star who hit 379 homers and drove in 1,652 runs in his 23 seasons. "I hope it happens."