- The Washington Times - Monday, September 22, 2003

Midfielder Shannon Boxx has made a sudden impact on the U.S. women’s soccer team.

Three weeks ago she had no international experience and seemed to be on the outside looking in. So much so, that she purchased Women’s World Cup tickets for her family for Sunday’s opening-round matches in Carson, Calif. She planned to watch the United States’ opening-round game against Sweden at RFK Stadium on TV with her fiance, Sean Taketa, and various family members from her home in Redondo Beach, Calif.

But on Sunday Boxx was on TV celebrating her goal in the 78th minute which clinched the United States’ 3-1 win over Sweden. Oh, by the way, the Boxx family sold those World Cup tickets in California and were there at RFK.

It’s been a meteoric rise for Boxx, who became the first player in U.S. women’s soccer history named to the World Cup team without any previous international experience. She also is the first U.S. player to score a goal in each of her first three national team games.

“People are now expecting me to score every game and that expectation is going to put a lot of pressure on me, which is fine, because I don’t mind the pressure, but I’m not going in saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to get a goal today,’” Boxx said. “My main focus is defensive. Whatever I can do there in tackling, heading and playing balls off. … If I can get a goal, then that’s a bonus.”

U.S. coach April Heinrichs noticed Boxx’s stellar play this past season when Boxx was with the WUSA’s New York Power.

“Shannon Boxx’s late-season performance for the Power was compelling,” Heinrichs said when she named her World Cup roster last month. “What was compelling about it was she was dominating the midfield, regardless of who the opponent was. I watched all of her games, and what became apparent was she has qualities that allow her to dominate in a way that I think we can use.”

The 26-year-old Boxx, along with former Washington Freedom star Abby Wambach, are considered part of the next generation for the U.S. team. The rest of the women’s soccer world knew about the likes of Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Kristine Lilly, et al, but Boxx and Wambach were relative unknowns until Sunday’s game.

Four years ago when the United States was celebrating its World Cup victory, Boxx was almost off the national team radar screen even though she was a member of the U.S. under-21 team pool in 1995 and ‘96.

Boxx, a 1999 graduate of Notre Dame where she helped lead the Irish to the 1995 NCAA title as a freshman, was a soccer vagabond after college. She played for Ajax — a women’s club team in Los Angeles — and with the W-League’s Boston Renegades and in 2000 went overseas to play with Saarbrucken of the German women’s Bundesliga.

It wasn’t until 2001, when the WUSA was created, that she got a chance at world-class soccer. She was drafted by the San Diego Spirit in the third round and played two seasons before she was traded to New York. Always a solid defensive midfielder, she had a breakout year this season with a career-high eight assists and was named to the All-WUSA first team.

Although she was invited to two U.S. team training camps last year, Boxx never saw international play until Heinrichs named her to this World Cup team. And in her first game, a Sept.1 friendly against Costa Rica, Boxx scored in an easy U.S. victory. A week later in a friendly against Mexico, Boxx scored again.

Now, especially after Chastain broke her foot against Sweden, Boxx is expected to play an important role for the Americans.

“The other players have always believed in me and were great when I was coming in for camps,” Boxx said. “Brandi would come up to me and say ‘You deserve to be here.’ Mia came up and told me I’d be fine and to just keep playing the way I have been. Even during the game against Sweden, Lilly came over and reminded me to settle down and get back to the simple things.”

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