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Briana Scurry squatted in front of her goal with three minutes still to play. At the other end of the field the ball was bouncing in and out of sight like a volleyball in a neighbor's backyard. She rested her chin in the palm of her gloved hand, squinting against the sunlight. She's the goalkeeper of the U.S. women's soccer team. "I won't lie," said Scurry after watching her teammates devour Portugal 6-0 in Fort Lauderdale last Saturday. "I do get bored."
There will be many such days over the next four months leading up to the 16-team women's World Cup, which will be played at seven U.S. venues beginning on June 19-Last week the host team officially launched its Cup preparations with a couple of friendly matches against the Portuguese, who accepted their beatings like a good sparring partner. Including a game three days earlier in Orlando that wasn't open to the public, the visitors were besieged by 74 shots and 13 goals while producing just one shot of their own—a misfire high over the bar, hopelessly beyond Scurry's reach.
During games such as last Saturday's, Scurry's 10 teammates on the field make her feel as much a part of the action as the Chief Justice in a room full of senators. On other days, particularly in the privacy of daily training, they give her more work than she can handle. "Practices are always more competitive for me than games," Scurry says. "In practice I might see 100, 200 or 300 shots." Those 300 shots are hooked and walloped and headed and lobbed by two dozen women performing in the most competitive environment their sport has ever known. The practices of the original Dream Team, with Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan going at each other day after day, were the sort of thing the U.S. women are experiencing now.
With the win over Portugal, the U.S. stretched its unbeaten streak on home soil to 46 games. (The women have lost only three times at home since 1993.) Yet the American players know that three or four teams are capable of ending that streak this summer. "Everyone in this country thinks we're going to win, that it's a sure thing, but it's not," says U.S. captain Carla Over-beck, a defender. Last year the Americans won 22 of 25 matches against mostly overwhelmed competition; two ties and one loss were to the three other seeds for this summer's championships: China, which played the U.S. to a scoreless tie in Guang Zhou; Germany, which drew 1-1 in St. Louis; and defending World Cup champion Norway, which inflicted a 4-1 loss in Lagos, Portugal.
Even though he has eight players with 100 or more national-team appearances, coach Tony DiCicco has opened the competition at all positions. He claims to have identified no more than six starters among the 26 players in camp. Either 20 or 22 players—FIFA has yet to decide on a final number—will make the World Cup roster. DiCicco says he learned a lot from watching France plug in several bench players en route to winning the men's World Cup last summer. "I want to make sure we're like that," he says. "By June I want us to have 18 players who can step in and on any given day be a key player in the lineup."
The game last Saturday, played before a polite crowd of 5,152 at Lockhart Stadium, seemed to confirm his wish. DiCicco started a front line of Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly and Tiffeny Milbrett, none of whom is older than 27, but—counting the two goals by Lilly and one from Hamm against Portugal—together they have scored an outrageous 216 goals in international matches. Playing behind them, having moved recently from forward to central midfield, was 5'10" Michelle Akers, who ran the offense with an intimidating, Magic-like presence, towering over opposing midfielders. Akers's sprinting volley off a corner lack in the 40th minute was the 100th goal of her international career.
As if showing off all his weapons, DiCicco brought on five substitutes for the second half, including the enormously gifted forward Danielle Fotopoulos, 22, who embodies all of the coach's options. Two months ago Fotopoulos ended her college career by leading Florida to the national title, finishing with an NCAA record 118 goals. At 5'11" and 165 pounds and blessed with surprising speed, Fotopoulos is an imposing figure. This summer she is likely to make an impact as a second-half substitute, much as she did last Saturday while scoring her fifth international goal. The other American strikers drive and slash toward the goal. Fotopoulos is more like a low-post player in basketball, a target for American passes, who can get position and score on the first touch. "I accept my role, but I'm not complacent," Fotopoulos says. "While I'm becoming a better player, I'm making my teammates work harder."
Which on most game days makes goal-keeping a dull deal.