Scurry Has Eye on Job

Times Staff Writer

The last time Briana Scurry stepped onto a soccer field was the starry night of Aug. 26, 2004, at Karaiskaki Stadium in Athens, the night she won her second Olympic gold medal.

Since then, nothing.

After helping the U.S. reclaim the gold it had won in 1996 but lost in 2000, Scurry disappeared. She fell off the map. As far as anyone knew, she had retired.

"I contacted her way back before the Algarve Cup [in Portugal last March] and she told me she needed some time off," Greg Ryan, the U.S. women's national team coach, said the other day at the Home Depot Center.

So Ryan turned elsewhere, and Hope Solo inherited the starting goalkeeper's spot that had been Scurry's almost exclusively for 10 years, during which she played 155 games and earned 71 shutouts.

Now, Scurry wants it back.

When the U.S. team leaves for China on Tuesday to compete against Norway, France and China in the Four Nations Cup, chances are Scurry will be on board the flight.

Ten months into her self-imposed exile, she began to feel that something was missing in her life, something that had been a vital part of her for more than a decade.

"In about June, July, I was like, 'You know what? I really miss it. I can still do it,' " Scurry said last week. "The team gave me good positive feedback that they wanted to see me back and so here I am."

Here, indeed.

At her peak, Scurry was the best female goalkeeper in the world. No one else came close. She proved it at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, at the Women's World Cup in 1999 and again at the Athens Olympics in 2004.

Gold, gold, gold.

When she took a hiatus in 2000 and lost both her form and her starting spot, the U.S. had to be content with silver at the Sydney Olympics. Scurry never forgave herself.

She bounced back from that and now, at 34, is ready to do so again.

"It's good to see that she wants to be back, that she wants to have a go," said U.S. assistant coach Bill Irwin. "I think it's tremendous. It's been a while since she's played, so that takes a lot of courage to come back and get right back into the thick of things. So far she's been doing OK.

"People had written her off before and she showed tremendous mental toughness and enthusiasm and work rate to get back there. And that's still there. That's something you cannot instill. It comes from the heart. She loves the game of soccer. It's in her hands, nobody else's."

Ryan was more than willing to give Scurry the chance.

"A player with her history and past, you're definitely always going to give a shot to somebody with that amount of ability," he said.

As for the rust of a 16-month layoff, Ryan dismissed it as meaningless.

"An old pro like Briana, she's going to shake it off pretty quickly," he said.

Well, not that quickly, Scurry countered. It has been only three months since she made the commitment to herself to return.

"I've only been training in the weight room and whatnot since October," she said. "I think I should be back to where I was in 2004 for sure by April. It takes a while, especially now that I'm older. It takes a little longer these days."

The U.S. team has been training at the Home Depot Center since Tuesday. Among the 28 players Ryan has in camp are four goalkeepers -- Scurry; Solo, who is 24; Jen Branham, 25, and Nicole Barnhart, 24.

The latter three spent 2005 jostling to see who would inherit Scurry's position, with Solo, most often, getting the nod. Now, all three not only have to battle the legend but the player herself.

"I totally understand how they feel," Scurry said. "I came onto the team when I was 22 or 23, I think, and so I totally understand what they're feeling.

"I'm just going to do my thing. I can't really concern myself with what other people feel or think. I'm hoping to get my starting spot back as soon as I can, and then we'll see who comes with."

How's that for slapping down the gauntlet?

"I heard plenty of rumors in 2005 that she was returning this year," Solo said, adding that the prospect bothered her at first, but not for long.

"The more I got used to it, the more it helped me and helped my training and helped my focus ... I'm inspired by it. I love the fact that she's 34, I think, and knows that she can come back. It's amazing."

Scurry said her intent is to play in both the 2007 Women's World Cup in China and the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"As of right now, I'm looking at both," she said, "but I'll definitely have to make an assessment after the World Cup just to see how I'm feeling and where I'm at and where life is at. I'm going to plan for the long term and then see what happens."

As for where she has been for the last year or so, well, she's been making money.

A brief stint in a bank did not pan out as planned because she wasn't learning what she wanted to learn, which was about how lending works, so she turned elsewhere.

"I'm in real estate, actually," she said. "I'm an investor, not an agent. I bought a couple of properties. Two in Arizona and one in Texas."

Condo conversions and such aside, Scurry is ready to return to the more serious business of keeping the U.S. women on top internationally.

In Ryan, she has a coach who knows what she can bring.

"Greg is great," Scurry said. "I've known him for a long time. He recruited me when I was in high school -- to go to Wisconsin. We go way back.

"He's a real straightforward guy. He lets you know how it is. You really can't ask for more than that as a player -- a coach who will let you know where you're standing."

Right now, Scurry is standing on the brink, poised for another comeback.

And possibly another gold.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Women in goal

How Briana Scurry's record compares with the composite of all other goalkeepers in the 20-year history of the U.S. women's national soccer team:

*--* SCURRY OTHERS 155 Games played 255 146 Games started 206 12,586 Minutes 19,224 87 Goals allowed 157 71 Shutouts 100 120 Wins 145 11 Losses 40 11 Ties 23 0.62 Goal average 0.73

*--*

Source: U.S. Soccer Federation

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