SEATTLE, Wash. (Saturday, November 2, 2002) - The U.S. Women's National Team is one win away from a berth in the 2003 Women's World Cup after its 9-0 thrashing of Panama tonight in its final Group 1 game of the 2002 CONCACAF Women's Gold Cup. The USA's two players with Northwestern ties put on a show for the fans, as Tiffeny Milbrett scored five times and Shannon MacMillan scored twice, to totally overpower the young Panamanians on a chilly night at the beautiful Safeco Field in front of a festive crowd of 21,522.
"This was a special crowd tonight," said U.S. head coach April Heinrichs. "They appreciated every touch on the ball, every effort to get back on defense, and they appreciated the players out there for their efforts and intensity. It was really an electrifying crowd to play in front of and for our players a real treat. They cheered for 90 minutes."
The quintet for Milbrett tied a U.S. Women's National Team record for most goals in a game, previously accomplished by Brandi Chastain against Mexico at the 1991 CONCACAF Qualifying Tournament and by Michelle Akers against Taiwan at the 1991 Women's World Cup. Milbrett already holds the U.S. record for most assists in a match with five, getting that against Australia in 1997. With the five goals, Milbrett upped her international goal total to 94 and vastly accelerated her chase for her historic 100th goal, an achievement previously accomplished by just four women in international soccer history. Milbrett was injured in the 56th minute when she stepped awkwardly and had to leave the match, forcing the USA to play with 10 women the rest of the way as Heinrichs had already made her three allowed substitutions, but the injury turned out to be minor.
Despite dominating its first two matches of the tournament, and out-shooting its opponents 55-3, the USA had struggled to score against teams content to drop 10 players behind the ball and bunker. The U.S. had no such trouble against Panama, finding a great rhythm that lasted the entire match and scored five goals in the first 14 minutes, including a true hat trick from Milbrett, who scored three goals in the first eight minutes and 23 seconds after the opening whistle.
With the win, the USA clinched first place in Group 1 and a berth in the semifinal on Wednesday, Nov. 6, at Safeco Field against either Canada or Costa Rica, pending the outcome of that Group 2 match tomorrow. A victory in the semifinal would earn the U.S. women one of this region's two automatic berths to the 2003 Women's World Cup, being held Sept. 24-Oct. 11, 2003, in China.
The USA's goals came fast and furiously, the first less than three minutes into the game when Aly Wagner sent a perfect chip over the defense to Milbrett. The back-spinning ball bit perfectly, bouncing up for Milbrett to volley into the net with her left foot from six yards out. Wagner and Milbrett hooked up again three minutes later as the young midfielder slid a ball behind the defense to Milbrett, who split two defenders to tap the ball into the net from seven yards out.
"We expected it to be packed in again tonight, but I was surprised we were actually able to find the space we did," said Milbrett. "I got some great balls out of the midfield and that makes my job much easier because I can be a forward and be a finisher. It was great fun to be out there, to finish some goals and come away with the top spot in our group."
In between the two goals, Abby Wambach had hit the right post on diving header. Milbrett then completed what must be the fastest hat trick in U.S. Women's National Team history as MacMillan played her through into the middle of the penalty area and she outran the outmatched Panamanian defense to touch the ball into the net.
"As far skill, speed and goal scoring ability, Tiffeny is probably second to none in the world," said U.S. defender Brandi Chastain. "And when you couple her with a player who can pass the ball exactly where it needs to be in Aly Wagner, you have a deadly combination."
MacMillan hit the crossbar in the 12th minute, and then got her two goals just two minutes apart in the 12th and 14th minutes, both on driven shots that Panama goalkeeper Monica Franco got a hand on, but couldn't turn outside the goal. With the two scores, MacMillan upped her career total to 51, becoming the seventh player in U.S. history to score 50 or more goals. It also upped her 2002 total to a team-leading 16 goals.
Milbrett got her fourth in 22nd minute, again set up by Wagner, as she ran onto a ball in the penalty area, cut hard into the middle and slammed her shot into the left corner. Milbrett got her record-tying goal courtesy of a poor Panama clearance, and with the goalkeeper out of the net, she chipped the ball into the open goal from 25 yards out.
Tiffany Roberts got the eighth goal of the half, and her first for the USA since May 12, 1996, running onto a hard cross from Wambach at the near post to pound her shot into the roof of the net. It was Robert's seventh career international goal. Panama had its only real chance in the last minute of the first half as Maritzenia Bedoya flashed free in the middle of the U.S. defense, but LaKeysia Beene was lightning off her line to smother the ball and bowl over Bedoya, who had to be carried off the field.
The U.S. eased back on the throttle in the second half, and despite numerous chances, scored just once more, that through Abby Wambach who finished a one-on-one chance for her fifth career international goal. Panama captain Amarelis DeMera was ejected in the 86th minute for throwing an off-the-ball elbow into the jaw of MacMillan, who was momentarily stunned and had to leave the field, but returned to finish the match.
Wagner, who left after the game to travel to Portland where she will play a match tomorrow with her Santa Clara University college team against the University of Portland, had three assists on the night, all to Milbrett. Wambach and Angela Hucles both picked up two assists each.
"Tiff just made awesome runs," said Wagner. "She was slipping in through their back line so it was easy to put the ball in her path. She finished just about everything that was put in front of her tonight."
Mexico defeated T&T in the first game of the doubleheader, 2-0, on two goals from Monica Gerardo and will face the first place team from Group 2 in the other semifinal on Wednesday at SAFECO Field. The USA will play in the 7 p.m. semifinal no matter what the result of the Canada vs. Costa Rica match tomorrow. The second semifinal kicks off at 9:30 p.m. Both games will be broadcast live on Fox Sports World.
U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL TEAM GAME REPORT
Participants: United States Women's National Team vs. Panama
Competition: 2002 CONCACAF Women's Gold Cup / Women's World Cup Qualifying Tournament
Venue: Safeco Field (Seattle, Washington)
Date: November 2, 2002; Kickoff - 7:30 p.m. (PT)
Weather: Cold, dry, roof closed - 40 degrees
Scoring Summary: 1 - 2 - F
United States 8 - 1 - 9
Panama 0 - 0 - 0
USA - Tiffeny Milbrett (Aly Wagner), 3.
USA - Tiffeny Milbrett (Aly Wagner), 6.
USA - Tiffeny Milbrett (Shannon MacMillan), 9.
USA - Shannon MacMillan (Abby Wambach), 12.
USA - Shannon MacMillan (Angela Hucles), 14.
USA - Tiffeny Milbrett (Aly Wagner), 22.
USA - Tiffeny Milbrett (unassisted), 34.
USA - Tiffany Roberts (Abby Wambach), 40.
USA - Abby Wambach (Angela Hucles), 85.
USA - 18-LaKeysia Beene; 4-Cat Reddick, 6-Brandi Chastain (5-Tiffany Roberts, 24), 14-Joy Fawcett (capt.) (15-Kate Sobrero, 28), 17-Jenny Benson; 2-Lorrie Fair, 3-Angela Hucles, 10-Aly Wagner (11-Julie Foudy, 46); 8-Shannon MacMillan, 16-Tiffeny Milbrett, 22-Abby Wambach.
Subs not used: 1-Briana Scurry, 9-Mia Hamm, 12-Cindy Parlow, 13-Kristine Lilly.
PAN: Monica Franco, 2-Tricia Arosemena, 5-Lucresia Bustamente, 6-Raiza Gutierrez, 7-Yoraidil Perez (14-Steffany Aguilar, 58), 9-Amarelis DeMera (capt.), 10-Yanilka Gonzalez, 11-Diana Valderrama, 13-Maritzenia Bedoya, 15-Ruth Romero (8-Maxima Gonzalez, 31), 17-Natalia Perea (4-Elizabeth Louis, 78).
Subs not used: 12-Josselyn Montilla, 16-Caroline Gaytan, 18-Lisbeth Davis, 20-Dilian Alvarado.
Statistical Summary: USA / PAN
Shots: 38 / 2
Saves: 0 / 11
Corner Kicks: 7 / 1
Fouls: 2 / 4
Offside: 3 / 1
PAN - Amarelis DeMera (ejection), 86.
USA - Julie Foudy (caution), 90.
Referee: Varnette Laing (BAH)
Asst. Referee: Maria del Socorro (MEX)
Asst. Referee: Paulette Riley (JAM)