- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2003

Briana Scurry lost her focus, her fitness and, ultimately, her job.

Siri Mullinix is haunted by the daily reminder that she was in goal when the United States lost the gold medal to Norway at the 2000 Olympics, perhaps the biggest disappointment in the U.S. women’s storied soccer history.

Now, however, the two most-capped U.S. goalkeepers are back in form — a testament to their mental toughness and ability to persevere. In this Women’s World Cup, the United States will have two of the best between the pipes.

“We’re very blessed, and it’s not something we ever take for granted, that we have two great ones,” coach April Heinrichs said. “We feel confident using both of them. One of the strengths on our team is depth.”

As per team policy, Heinrichs will not disclose her starting lineup for tonight’s second game in GroupA play against Nigeria (0-1) at Philadelphia’s new Lincoln Financial Field, but she has hinted that she might split time between her goalkeepers in group play. If that’s the case, it’s Mullinix’s turn after Scurry was solid in the Americans’ 3-1 victory against Sweden in Sunday’s opener at RFK Stadium.

Let’s rewind to 1999. Scurry, who holds virtually every goalkeeping record in U.S. women’s soccer history, punched China’s Liu Ying’s penalty kick wide to the right to set up Brandi Chastain’s memorable World Cup winning penalty kick before 90,000 at the Rose Bowl.

Instant fame engulfed Scurry. All the interviews, appearances and attention caused Scurry to lose commitment to the game as the United States was regrouping for the Sydney Olympics the following year. A string of injuries from being out of shape forced a nearly two-year absence from the national team.

Scurry, now 32, easily could have retired, but she rededicated herself and reclaimed the starting goalkeeper job for the national team earlier this year after a seven-year earlier run as No.1. Scurry, who is starting in her third World Cup after backing up Mullinix at the 2000 Olympics, was nearly reduced to tears minutes before the Sweden game because of how far she had fallen.

“It was a great day for me,” said Scurry, who has 61 career shutouts and entered this World Cup with a spectacular 0.60 career goals-against-average. “I was anxious on the way over on the bus, knowing that I was going to be starting. This is something I worked for during the past two years, and it was finally here.”

Mullinix took over the job from Scurry in 2000. This year Mullinix, 25, appeared in five national team games and posted a superb 0.33 goals-against average.

The reason Mullinix played in less than half of the national team’s 13 games was that Heinrichs also was looking at former San Jose CyberRays goalkeeper LaKeysia Beene, who appeared in five national team games. But after Mullinix was outstanding in the WUSA playoffs in leading the Washington Freedom to the now-defunct league’s third championship, Beene was subsequently put on the back burner.

Though Scurry tends to play off her line a little more than Mullinix, both are 5-foot-8 acrobats in goal and made numerous highlight-reel saves this season in the WUSA. One of Mullinix’s strengths is her kicking game. She can use both feet equally well and plays a good long ball, which can start an attack.

They are different goalkeepers but similar in having quick reflexes and the ability to save balls off the line. A third World Cup championship for the U.S. would validate Scurry’s soccer renaissance and exorcise Mullinix’s bitter memory of the Sydney games.

“The big thing with Bri and I is that we played in a league [WUSA] with the best U.S. players and the best international players, so every day we were being tested,” Mullinix said. “Even when I wasn’t with the national team this year, I was going against Abby [Wambach] and Mia [Hamm] daily, and I know Bri was going up against players like that [with the Atlanta Beat]. It allowed us to broaden every part of our game, from breakaways to the flight of balls. The entire package, Bri and I have it covered.”

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