The most delicate negotiations will take place with China. When DiCicco and WUSA consultant Lauren Gregg made up a list of the 25 internationals he wanted most last month, it included four Chinese players, headed by World Cup '99 MVP Sun Wen. Mindful that the Red Army still refuses to release basketball player Wang Zhi-Zhi, a 1999 draft pick of the Dallas Mavericks, DiCicco plans to meet this month with the head of the women's program for the Chinese soccer federation. IMG, which represents Sun, could intervene if the talks bog down.
Other foreign stars on WUSA's radar screen are Germany's Bettina Wiegmann, Brazil's Sissi and Norway's Hege Riise and Marianne Pettersen. Surprisingly, flamboyant Chinese goalkeeper Gao Hong was not on the wish list, partly because organizers want to leave spots open for U.S. keepers.
WUSA isn't likely to have the playing field all to itself, however. England, which didn't even qualify for the Cup in 1999, is planning its own women's league, and UEFA, the European governing body, recently announced it will hold a women's tournament for the continent's top clubs. "At some level the federations are going to be protective of their players, but they also know that this is the next step for the women's game," says DiCicco. "Their players now have the opportunity to play the game they love where women's soccer means more than it does anywhere else on the planet."
The Struggles of United
D.C.'s D Gets an F
Nobody denies that D.C. United has the best collection of defenders in MLS, including two players ( Jeff Agoos and Carlos Llamosa) who excelled on the American back line during the U.S. Cup and another ( Eddie Pope) who will rejoin the national team next month after recovering from surgery on his left knee in April. So why has United's defense been so horrid this season, allowing 31 goals through Sunday (tied for second most in MLS) while the team limped to a league-worst 3-9-3 record?
"It's a fallacy that because you have good defenders, you're going to allow fewer goals," Agoos says. "It certainly helps, but you have to defend well as a team, and we haven't done that. A lot of our goals are coming against set pieces and on freaky plays like own goals and penalty kicks."
He's right. At week's end D.C. led MLS in own goals (three) and penalty-kick goals allowed (five), and it had given up a remarkable 10 goals on set pieces, including all three in a 3-1 loss to the New England Revolution on May 13. Those numbers suggest a lack of discipline across the board, which will have to be corrected if United is to challenge for a fourth MLS title in October.
Last Saturday, D.C. got its first shutout, a 0-0 tie against the Kansas City Wizards, but that can't exactly be seen as a positive sign. The game was called at half-time because of a lighting malfunction at RFK Stadium.