- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 29, 2003

Finally, a soccer movie that might win over an American audience.
"Bend It Like Beckham," the latest export from England, is the story of a girl's desire to play top-flight soccer while a clash of cultures rages around her. The delightful comedy, with doses of harmless ethnic humor, is a feel-good experience that is sure to please American fans.
The film centers on 18-year-old Jess, an Anglo-Indian girl played by Parminder Nagra who wants to join a "real" soccer team and "bend a ball" take a free kick like Manchester United star and Posh Spice spouse David Beckham. But there's a problem for Jess. Her traditional Sikh family is against her running around in shorts and more concerned about her learning how to make a "full Punjabi meal" and help with her sister's wedding.
"Your sister is getting married, and you're just watching this skinhead boy," says her father, referring to all the Beckham posters hanging on her wall.
For girls like Jess and her tomboy friend, Jules, America with its professional women's league and stars like Mia Hamm and Tiffeny Milbrett is the promised land.
At a preview for the film, director/writer Gurinder Chadha said she wanted to send a message to the soccer bosses in England to set up a women's professional league like America's WUSA.
The film, made on a budget of $5million, already has collected $50million outside the U.S.
Fox Searchlight, the film's distributor, considered changing the title because Beckham arguably one of the world's most famous players is not well known in the U.S. The company went ahead with the unusual title since a previously unknown English phrase worked for the hit film "The Full Monty."
The Los Angeles Times dubbed the film "My Big Fat Free Kick," and there are glaring similarities to the hit romantic comedy "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." The film includes highlights from WUSA games and references to Hamm.
Soccer aficionados will spot cameos from British stars Gary Lineker, John Barnes, Alan Hansen and Beckham himself at the end of the film. Or is it really the dead ball maestro? The closing credits are also a scream.
The film opened at Loew's Georgetown 14 yesterday.

Americans regroup The U.S. men's team will play Venezuela today at Seattle's Seahawks Stadium in an exhibition game live on ESPN2 at 4 p.m. The South American team was a late replacement for Japan, which pulled out last week because of security concerns.
Americans Brian McBride, Frankie Hedjuk, John O'Brien, Kasey Keller, Eddie Pope and D.C. United forward Earnie Stewart will play their first national team match since the World Cup in Asia last year. Birmingham City-based forward Jovan Kirovski, who has not appeared for the senior team since the 4-2 loss to Germany on March 27, 2002, also is on the roster.
This is the second meeting between the teams. The last time, the Americans gave up a three-goal lead in a 3-3 tie at the 1993 Copa America in Ecuador.
Notably missing from coach Bruce Arena's 18-man roster is United midfielder and American team veteran Ben Olsen. Olsen was substituted at halftime in the Americans' 1-0 loss to Argentina last month.
The U.S. team remains 10th in this month's FIFA rankings out of 204 national teams. Brazil is No.1, followed by Spain, France, Argentina, Germany, Netherlands, Turkey, Mexico and England.

Freedom update The Washington Freedom signed forward Meredith Beard and midfielder Sarah Kate Noftsinger to reserve contracts for 2003. WUSA rules allow a maximum of 20 roster slots for each team, with 16 active players, two reserves and two developmental players.
The Freedom take on the Boston Breakers tomorrow at 4 p.m. to highlight the seventh annual Kicks Against Breast Cancer tournament at the Germantown Soccerplex.
In a BBC interview last week, Hamm mused about her future, saying, "I'm not interested in coaching, but I'd welcome the chance to get involved in the development of women's soccer because I feel so strongly."

United update Major League Soccer's disciplinary and technical committee is investigating United forward Hristo Stoitchkov's tackle that broke American University midfielder Freddy Llerena's leg this week. The Bulgarian star could face a fine and suspension. He will sit out today's game against the Charleston Battery in Charleston, S.C.
Meanwhile, Llerena told The Washington Times, "I'll be ready for the first game of the fall season."

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