Finding Her Form
Briana Scurry crouches low in the net, arms poised at her sides, fingers spread, eyes following every move.
Mia Hamm unleashes a searing shot, sending the ball on an apparently unstoppable trajectory toward the lower right corner of the net.
Scurry flings herself down low to her left, her body at full stretch, her arms reaching out, her fingertips just getting to the ball and, somehow, deflecting it around the post.
Hamm is first to react. “Great save, Bri,” she shouts.
It is merely a training ground moment, but its message is clear: Briana Scurry is back. And with a vengeance.
In 1996, she was the starting goalkeeper for the United States when it won the first gold medal in women’s soccer at the Atlanta Olympic Games.
In 1999, she was No. 1 goalkeeper when the U.S. reclaimed the Women’s World Cup, her memorable -- not to mention controversial -- penalty-kick save in the final against China at the Rose Bowl one of the highlights of the tournament.
In 2000, she was on the bench, watching in Australia as Siri Mullinix started every match and helped the U.S. win the silver medal at the Sydney Olympic Games. Norway grabbed the gold, winning the final, 3-2, in overtime.
That still bothers Scurry. Angers her, in fact.
“I think that had she [U.S. Coach April Heinrichs] chosen me, we probably would have won the gold medal,” Scurry said. “I honestly believe that. I felt that in my heart and I still do.”
It’s nothing personal against Mullinix, it’s merely the competitive fire within Scurry flaring again. The fire she mistakenly allowed to burn too low after the 1999 triumph.
“I think I got a little wrapped up in the media and everything else,” Scurry admitted. “Traveling around the country, doing Leno, doing Rosie, all these speeches and appearances and everything else. I got away from the training.
“I should have taken a break, but not as much of a break as I did. I mean, I got away from what got me there, which was being in the weight room especially. Things got away from me, I gained some weight and I got out of shape.”
Fourteen months passed between the 1999 World Cup final and the opening game of the Sydney 2000 Olympics. In those 14 months, Mullinix took the ball and ran. The starting spot became hers. Scurry was forced to the sideline.
By the time she realized what had happened, there was nothing she could do.
“It was disappointing for me,” she said. “I did work hard to get back into shape and I thought I was in decent shape by the time the Olympics rolled around, but that was too late.
“By then the team had been training for months and they had done well with Siri in the goal. They had won a few tournaments, won the Gold Cup, and things were solid.
“It wouldn’t have made much sense [to change].”
Since the loss to the Norwegians in Sydney, the U.S. has used six goalkeepers, with Mullinix, Scurry and LaKeysia Beene the preferred trio.
But Scurry started four of the five games when the U.S. clinched its place in the world championship by winning the Gold Cup in November, and it appears that she has regained the top spot.
This is Scurry’s ninth year on the national team.
Among goalkeepers, she is the all-time leader in almost every category. No one has more games (118), minutes (9,666), shutouts (60) or victories (91).
Given her success, it may appear as if Scurry has less motivation than that of her rivals.
“That’s a total misconception,” she said. “The incentive for me is huge. I’ve got my body and soul and heart invested in this World Cup and the [Athens 2004] Olympic run. I’ve transformed everything about me the last couple of years. My attitude, my eating habits, the way I train.... I’m fully invested in this.”
With the Women’s World Cup having been moved from China to the U.S., there is another motivation for Scurry, a more personal one.
“No offense to China, but I wasn’t really looking forward to going there,” she said.
“I’ll go wherever the World Cup is, but for me it’s just huge to have it back in the States because my parents can go, and that’s big time for me and my family and friends.
“My parents haven’t seen me play since ’99. My dad’s not in the best of health and it’s hard for him to move around. He has diabetes. Now that we know the games are going to be here, I can get him set up for dialysis ahead of time.
“It’s a beautiful thing for me. I didn’t know if he’d ever be able to see me play again.”
Heinrichs will not select her World Cup roster until after today’s match against fellow world championship contender Brazil in New Orleans. But Scurry’s confidence is soaring.
“I’m playing the best I’ve ever played,” she said. “Everything is positive. My quickness is good. My kicking has improved tenfold. I’m making an impact on my team, whether it’s the Atlanta Beat or here [with the U.S.]. Things are looking good.
“They haven’t necessarily declared No. 1 yet, but I’m comfortable where I’m at right now.”