"But we're playing lousy!" Mia shouts.
"Sure, you can tell them to step it up, but not so mean, Hammer!"
Let them work it out, Dorrance figures. Let Tony DiCicco, who replaces him in 1994 as coach of the national team, pick up the pieces and the chairs after Mia hisses, "Shut up!" at him during a game in France, then gets in a screaming match with him at halftime and starts knocking over seats in the locker room.
Dorrance will live with first-stage meltdown. It's stage two that's more worrisome. That's when Mia, sometimes because she's pulled back her game for fear of doing too much and upsetting her teammates, loses her rhythm and confidence and grows so frustrated at not living up to her own standards that her whole body sags. She can't run away when failure's coming, as she used to as a child, but her heart and soul do. She stops chasing balls. "Take her out!" captain Carla Overbeck shouts at the coach when that happens.
Dorrance has players around Mia, like Kelly and Overbeck, who can act as a firewall. He builds the sisterhood strong enough to heal the wounds. He knows Mia will feel so awful the next day that she'll mend the fences. It's worth it, all of it, because this is the player he's been searching for ever since he became a coach, one who catches fire each time the flint of her values is struck: You're doing this for 19 teammates, Mia. For American soccer. For millions of girls you can inspire. You can give by taking, Mia.
But now he wants her to take the next step—to choose athletic immortality, to give and take more. Mia's silent. He's asking something of her that happens only on the other side of the stripe: spontaneity, a light-switch decision, a go-for-broker.
It's 1991. Title IX, mandating equal opportunities for women in collegiate sports, has just begun to bear fruit. Sometimes only a few hundred people show up to watch the U.S. team play: There's no such thing as a female spectator team sport. Mia and her teammates do their own laundry, carry their own gear, sometimes drive their team vans. There's so little interest in their games that they send faxes to inform friends in the U.S. of how they're doing in the inaugural '91 World Cup, in China, and return with the championship to a welcoming party of three. They function in darkness.
"It's a decision, Mia," Dorrance says quietly, "that you make like that." His hand strikes the switch. Light floods the room. She hasn't said a word, but she's decided, she's going for it. Never dreaming how much light she'll cast, and how much of her the light will expose.
Does the face launch the movement? Or does the movement launch the face? At some point the two entwine, and no one can say. At some point little girls begin roaming the team's hotel hallways, looking for Mia, and after she poses for a picture and begins to walk away, they say, our whole team's waiting outside for you, can you come? At some point they begin falling asleep with her face on their walls and ceilings, the last image on their retinas each day, this woman who convinces them, without uttering a word, that it's O.K. to sweat, seethe, leap, let go. They begin writing her letters, wearing her ponytail and number 9 jersey to her games and shrieking, "Mia! Mia!" at the same pitch and frenzy as starving baby birds.
At some point she agrees, in spite of all her misgivings, to do the Letterman show and the Pert Plus commercial and the Barbie doll and the Gatorade and the Nike sneakers, because people she trusts persuade her that doing so will liberate even more girls who stand on the sidewalk as teams are chosen. Convince more girls that anything's possible, even a Barbie doll that plays soccer.