CHICAGO -- They're talented, they're tested and they're on a mission.
Mia Hamm, Michelle Akers, Julie Foudy and Tiffeny Milbrett, all determined to win back the title they lost four years ago, lead the U.S. roster for the Women's World Cup.
The tournament begins June 19 at Giants Stadium, with the Americans playing Denmark, and concludes July 10 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
"They want to make a statement to the world," coach Tony DiCicco said Monday after announcing the 20-player roster. "The World Cup, in soccer, is the epitome. They want to be Olympic champions and World Cup champions at the same time.
"The challenge is huge. But we are capable of accomplishing it."
The roster includes 13 of the 16 players from the team that won the gold medal at the Atlanta Olympics. Hamm, Akers, Foudy, Carla Overbeck, Kristine Lilly and Joy Fawcett all will be playing in their third World Cup; six others will be playing in their second.
The United States won the first World Cup in 1991 and was eliminated in the semifinals in 1995.
Eight players have been in 115 or more international games, including Lilly, whose 177 appearances is a world record.
"Having been there, for sure, is a huge plus," DiCicco said. "They know what to expect; they know what it's going to take. They know there are going to be some ups and downs in the tournament. They know physically the demand, because you can't duplicate the intensity of these games."
The most noticeable absence from the roster is forward Debbie Keller, who claims she's being excluded because of a sexual harassment lawsuit she filed. Keller, whose 14 goals tied her for second on the U.S. team last year, is suing Anson Dorrance, the North Carolina and former U.S. coach, alleging he made uninvited sexual advances and harassed her during and after her college career.
The two-time national player of the year wasn't an original invitee to the team's 26-player residency camp, but she later spent time with the team. Keller lost an arbitration hearing against U.S. Soccer last week.
"We invested a lot in Debbie last year, and she did very well," DiCicco said. "But Cindy Parlow wasn't in the mix a lot last year, and Danielle Fotopoulos was still coming back from her knee injury. It just became a numbers game.
"Debbie's still in the pool," DiCicco added. "The landscape of this team is going to change, because in the next year or two there's going to be a lot of retirements. So she needs to keep herself in the game."
The United States has long been the dominant team in women's soccer. It has 156-33-13 record, and 10-1-1 in the World Cup, giving up just five goals in six matches in '91.
This team is better than the 1991 squad, said Brandi Chastain, a member of both.
"We were very athletic in 1991. We relied on our athleticism to beat teams," Chastain said. "Now, with the same core people, we're a much more polished soccer team. We're better tactically; we're better technically. We understand each other a lot better.
"Things don't happen just because of instinct like they used to. They happen for reasons and purposes."
The United States lost to Norway, the eventual winner, in the 1995 World Cup. That loss still bothers the Americans, despite winning the Olympics the next year.
So DiCicco and his players have been preparing for this World Cup since the day after the Olympics ended. DiCicco has looked at hundreds of players in the last three years, both veterans and newcomers.
While much of his roster was set a long time ago, there were some decisions he made in the last few days. Among those DiCicco left off were goalie Siri Mullinix, midfielder Aly Wagner, defender Michelle French and forward Susan Bush.
"It was a more difficult decision than the Olympic decision, even though there were only 16 players in the Olympics, because there was more of a clear-cut division in '96," DiCicco said. "I think it's the best team the U.S. has ever put together."
Milbrett, the leading scorer this year, agreed.
"There's not a lot of disparity between the last person on the bench and those on the field," she said.
The United States also will play Nigeria and South Korea in the first round.
"I'd like to win this thing and hold the trophy up," Chastain said. "It's a beautiful trophy, and I hope I get to touch it."
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