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Who Provides the Best Forward Combo for the U.S. Heading into Athens?

In this playful piece, we pose a question or make a statement about something in soccer that will be opined about, agreed and disagreed on, by YOU, the reader. No more so-called experts giving safe, politically correct answers. Those days are over. Instead, we’ve opened the floor to everyone out there in Cyberland to throw in their two cents.

In April, we asked you this: With a group of six forwards (Mia Hamm, Shannon MacMillan, Heather O’Reilly, Cindy Parlow, Abby Wambach and Christie Welsh) currently in Olympic Residency, who provides the best combo up top for the U.S. heading to Athens?

The obvious answer, of course, is Mia and Abby up top together. Over the last two years, they’ve shown both at the pro level and the international level that they cannot be stopped and their chemistry is undeniable. But a good deal of you must have watched Mia’s three-assist performance against Brazil back on April 24, with the majority of responses recommending that Mia slide back to attacking midfield, where she can serve up pretty passes for Wambach and one of the other four forwards (Parlow, MacMillan, O’Reilly or Welsh). All we can say is that it will be interesting to see what April decides to do with her amazing forward corps. Thanks to all of those who made this perhaps the most popular question we’ve posed in the last year. Below are the best of the best answers:

Hamm and Wambach:
“While each of the six forwards has amazing individual talent and skill to bring to the game, the best combination of forwards in Olympic Residency now is clearly Mia and Abby.  These two have developed the mystical mind meld that coaches dream about, and that makes them the most dangerous attacking duo in the world today.  It's the magic that tells Mia exactly where to serve the ball, and tells Abby exactly how to time and place her run to put Mia's serve into the net.  This sixth sense connection can't be taught; it comes from powerful mental and emotional roots, and is grown only through experience, dedication and luck. While most any nation can field players with wonderful skills, the US was the only team in the 1999 WWC to field players with those skills AND this mental connection.  To win in the 2004 Olympics will take the very best the US WNT has to offer, and that's the combination of Mia and Abby with their mystical mind meld, backed up with a coach's dream bench of Shannon MacMillan, Heather O'Reilly, Cindy Parlow, and Christie Welsh.
--Brian Donnelly / 41 / Laurel, Md.

“I don't think it’s a hard decision for April to make.  Just look back to the friendly against Brazil.  The teamwork between Mia and Abby was outstanding.  Remember the wonderful flick on from Abby to Mia?  Mia took the flick on, charged down the left side, cut back, crossed, and guess who was there?  That's right: Abby.  True, she didn't score in that situation, but she was in perfect position and only a lunging deflection by the keeper prevented a 40 yard Wambach-to-Hamm-to-Wambach goal.  We have some wonderful players, but the chemistry in this duo is just undeniable.”
--Mike Register / 39 / Alpharetta, Ga.

Hamm, Wambach and Parlow:
“With the offensive power that the US has, it's hard to understand why Heinrichs continues to flirt with a 4-4-2.  Defense may win championships but not utilizing all of these talented players leaves the U.S. open to losing 1-0 on a fluke goal. That being said, Mia, Abby, and Cindy (with Mac or Heather coming off the bench) should be the line-up.  The much improved defensive presence of Abby has made her one of the top forwards.  Cindy always finds a way to score and shows herself to be a vastly more complete player than Christie.  If you need to mix things up, Heather can come off the bench and provide speed and determination while Mac proves deadly on free kicks. There's not really a way to go wrong, unless you try to force our players into a 4-4-2 and open the door for lesser quality teams to hang with the US.”
--Murray Peet / 37 / Philadelphia, Pa.

“I believe April Heinrichs will choose the following forwards: Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach and Cindy Parlow, and she will continune to use a 4-3-3. Although I think Heather O'Reilly is good, I think she is relatively inexperienced as well as Christie Welsh.  I think it could have been a draw between Shannon MacMillan and Cindy Parlow. As of late Cindy Parlow is looking rather slow on the field, but her strength and size up front are a big consideration.  It could be a toss-up and I wouldn't be surprised if Cindy Parlow was out and either Shannon MacMillan or Christie Welsh is in.”
--Ann Higgins / 35 / Pittsford, N.Y.

Hamm, Wambach and MacMillan:
“With so many versatile attacking personalities I think that the U.S. should play with three frontrunners.  This should spark more creativity and hopefully keep them from just hoofing the ball long to Wambach or relying on set pieces for all of their attacks (remember WWC '03?).  The three should be Hamm on the left, Wambach in the middle and Mac on the right. Parlow will come in off the bench when the other team is mentally tired and pick up a few goals in the tournament and O'Reilly will come in to run at defenses with tired legs.”
--Eric Jantzen / 32 / Goshen, Ind.

“If I were to pick three forwards, I’d go with Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach, and Shannon MacMillan.  Cindy Parlow is a good player, but I think Mac could take over her position because she’s faster than CP.  Mac could even be used in the midfield if needed also.  But if Mia drops back into that play-making midfielder role, I’d still choose Abby and Mac.  As for Heather O’Reilly, I don’t think it would be smart to bring someone so young to such an important tournament.  She hasn’t played in any major tournaments with the full WNT, so there is a chance of her buckling under the pressure.  Christie Welsh on the other hand is a very strong player, but she was just recently thrown into the mix of things again, so I think there would be lack of chemistry.  With Mia and Abby, they’ve played with each other on the Freedom and now for quite a while on the WNT and Mia and Mac have played together on the WNT for quite a few years.  I think the chemistry would be very good and effective!!!  Mia, Mac and Abby. They all have strength, speed, and creativity.”
--Nicole Rossi / 21 / Clifton, N.J.

Hamm, Wambach and O’Reilly:
“The best combination of forwards is Hamm, O'Reilly, and Wambach.  Though Heinrichs generally plays with two up top, in this formation Hamm can slip back into the midfield.  Ideally I would like to see a three top because of the talent in the forward pool and the combinations they make.  Hamm provides the necessary experience, playmaking abilities, and finishing touch.  Wambach has proven herself as a starter and has the experience of a World Cup under her belt.  Her size and presence are undeniable and with Hamm on the field to get her the ball, the scoring possibilities are numerous.  I chose O'Reilly as the third because I believe her combination of speed and youth will give the U.S. a boost when necessary.  I think Parlow and MacMillan will both be on the roster but not called upon to start.  Both forwards have excellent qualities, such as MacMillan's power and set-play abilities, and Parlow's size and experience, but neither has been called upon to start or play lots of minutes in international tournaments in the past year.  MacMillan may be called upon as a wing-midfielder as well, depending on her fitness and where she fits in with the other midfielders.”
--Katherine Vater / 19 / Cambridge, Mass.

Parlow and Wambach:
“It's very easy--Hamm, Parlow, Mac and Wambach are way too talented and experienced to not have them in the game and on the field at the same time. Parlow and Wambach will start in a 4-4-2 with Mac coming off the bench, Hamm will be moved to attacking midfield. In a 4-3-3 line up Hamm will move back up front and Mac will still come off the bench for instant firepower. All this depends greatly on what Heinrichs does at midfield though. With Wagner, Lilly, Foudy, Boxx and most likely Hamm looking to play the midfield, tough decisions will have to be made and that will determine who starts on the forward line. My suggestion (for what it's worth): Boxx, Hamm, Lilly and Foudy at the midfield with Wagner coming off the bench early in the second half. Wambach and Parlow up front with Mac coming off the bench in the second have to help deliver a knock out blow. Now, let’s see what happens.
--Sean Stills / 31 / Rancho Cordova, Calif.

For June, we ask you this: Who is the best U.S. starting eleven for the Men’s National Team as they open CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying versus Grenada on June 13 in Columbus?

Now that the European schedules are complete and with MLS still early in the 2004 season, Bruce will finally have a full complement of players at his beck and call as qualifying begins, so it will be interesting to see what kind of mix he puts out on the field. While the Grenada series should be fairly easy, we all know strange things can happen in the world of qualifying. We’re certain to see Reyna, McBride and one of the Big Three (Friedel, Howard or Keller) out there alongside Landon and Beaz, but as always with Bruce as Boss anyone can crack the lineup at any time (see: Pablo before 2002 Cup).

E-mail your BRIEF, but well-crafted rant to PLEASE INCLUDE YOUR FULL NAME, AGE AND CITY OF RESIDENCE. Feel free to submit responses for as many months as you wish, but in the interest of sharing the spotlight, we will be giving space to different respondents from month to month.

Table of Contents

1.  Armchair Midfielder: Ramblings, Rants & Random Thoughts
2.  In 3’s: MNT defender Steve Cherundolo
3.  Gear Galore: National Team Yearbooks are In
4.  Queries & Anecdotes: MNT Forward Jovan Kirovski
5.  Mark That Calendar: U-19 WNT CONCACAF Qualifying - 5/28-6/6
6.  Superstar!!!: U-17 Residency Graduates
7.  Fan Point/Counterpoint: U.S. WNT Forwards in Athens
8.  You Don’t Know Jack (Marshall): U-19 WNT Trivia

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