Starters, subs, what's the difference? Not much on the U.S. soccer team.
Backups Shannon MacMillan and Tisha Venturini did the scoring, while regulars Julie Foudy and Tiffeny Milbrett provided the spark coming off the bench Sunday as the United States beat North Korea 3-0 to advance to the quarterfinals of the Women's World Cup.
"My job is to get ready and take whatever time I get," MacMillan said after scoring once and setting up two goals by Venturini in the second half. "Some of us have to step up when we rest some players."
"I think I sealed my statement that I will give my heart and soul to this team."
U.S. coach Tony DiCicco had the luxury of resting some stars and he used it wisely. MacMillan and Venturini, former starters, played the whole game. Foudy and Milbrett came on for the second half with the match scoreless, and ignited the Americans to their third straight win and first place in Group A.
"We feel we have a strong group who have not been starting," DiCicco said after the win set up a second-round elimination game with Germany. "This was a chance for them to help us out."
"Shannon played a Shannon MacMillan type of game today. A goal like Shannon's will make any coach look like he said the right things."
DiCicco's decision to rest starters Michelle Akers, Kate Sobrero, Foudy and Milbrett showed in the scoreless first half. Although the Americans dominated the ball and had many scoring chances, their attack wasn't crisp, particularly in midfield.
But that changed drastically in the second half in 89-degree heat.
Milbrett entered at halftime for Mia Hamm and Foudy came on for Cindy Parlow. Those moves paid off with three goals in 20 minutes.
"I think that Millie creates things. Whatever game she plays in, it's a spark," Foudy said. "We started to go at the defense and then they collapsed and we could go wider on them. We weren't doing that in the first half."
MacMillan's shot from 20 yards, off Foudy's feed, skipped off the grass and past goalkeeper Kye Yong Sun on the short side in the 56th minute. The crowd of 50,584 at Foxboro Stadium, somewhat subdued until then, erupted in cheers as MacMillan slid face-first along the grass.
"The ball just moves around when she shoots," U.S. goalie Briana Scurry said of MacMillan's darts, which often fool Scurry in practice. "That ball totally dipped before it got to the keeper."
Moments later, with the Americans finally loosened up, Kristine Lilly hit the goal post with a left-footed volley. The Koreans quickly moved upfield and Jin Pyol Hui hit the crossbar from 15 yards.
Lilly barely missed again seven minutes later on another sharp feed from Foudy. But when Milbrett made a long run and passed to MacMillan deep in the Korean area, there would be no U.S. mistake. MacMillan's soft pass was headed in by Venturini in the 68h.
Venturini, who like MacMillan started for the gold medal team at the 1996 Olympics, connected again eight minutes later with a header off MacMillan's free kick. She celebrated with a cartwheel.
Venturini was not available after the game because she was randomly chosen by FIFA to be drug-tested.
Scurry made a handful of outstanding saves as the Koreans finally ventured upfield after falling behind. She preserved the team's second shutout of the opening round. The Americans beat Denmark 3-0 and Nigeria, which also advanced to the quarterfinals, 7-1.
"She's like a rock of granite for us," DiCicco said of Scurry, who made five saves.
On Fair Play Day, the Americans posed arm in arm with the Koreans (1-2) for a pre-game photo, then watched their opponent fall back into a defensive shell. Early on, those tactics seemed to frustrate the Americans. But the work of the halftime replacements, plus Venturini and MacMillan, carried the Americans into the next round.
It was the first non-sellout for a U.S. game in the tournament, but the crowd still was impressive. The Women's World Cup has sold more than 560,000 tickets, well beyond projections, and with the hosts still in it, a sellout in Landover, Md., on Thursday is likely.
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