Last hurrah for fab five

August 5, 2004
By Rob Gloster

NEA IONIA, Greece -- Kristine Lilly's fingernails are red and blue - she couldn't find any white polish. Brandi Chastain is as intense as ever, sweating through a drill in the midday sun long after teammates quit. Joy Fawcett is 10 time zones away from her three kids.

The Fab Five of U.S. women's soccer are back for one last hurrah and a chance to make amends for failures of the last few years. And, just as importantly, they're back among friends.

Lilly, Chastain, Fawcett, Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy have been the team's nucleus since the late 1980s. They have celebrated at each other's weddings and grieved at parents' funerals. And they have become perhaps the most storied team in women's sports history.

Now in their early to mid-30s, they have come together again to try to capture the gold medal they couldn't win at the 2000 Sydney Games (silver) and the 2003 World Cup (bronze). And they have gathered to share yet another chapter in what they say will be a lifelong partnership.

``I love soccer and I love this team,'' Foudy said Thursday after a two-hour practice outside Athens. ``But I think the reason we've all been around so long is because of the people we're doing it with.''

The U.S. team won two World Cups in the 1990s, as well as the gold medal when the sport debuted at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. The first World Cup victory came in 1991, and younger members of the current team refer to the Fab Five as ``the 91ers.''

The youngest member is Mia Hamm, 32, whose 151 goals in international competition are unmatched by any other woman. The trade of her husband, Nomar Garciaparra, last weekend led the women's soccer team members to discard their Red Sox caps in favor of Cubs caps.

Foudy and Lilly are 33. Lilly has played in a women's record 276 international games, and Foudy has appeared in 256.

The image of Chastain, 36, ripping off her shirt after scoring the winner in a penalty shootout at the 1999 World Cup remains one of the enduring images in sports. Fawcett, 36, is the ultimate soccer mom. Her three daughters will join her in Greece during the Olympics.

``I think it's inevitable we'll remain close. We have something that will last a lifetime,'' Lilly says. ``We've spent half of our lives together, so it won't be like we're going to stop seeing each other after soccer.''

The team has a good chance for gold.

China, Germany and Sweden are the top challengers, and the Americans defeated the Chinese 3-1 last Sunday in a warm-up game in Connecticut. The U.S. team plays its first Olympic match against Greece next Wednesday, two days before the opening ceremony.

But nobody's taking things lightly. As a train rumbled past the Apollon soccer stadium in suburban Nea Ionia, the players worked out under a searing sun. Outside, rifle-toting soldiers stood guard.

Coach April Heinrichs called players to the center of the field to end the practice, but Chastain and Cindy Parlow continued with a header and footwork drill. ``We're not done,'' Chastain yelled to her teammates, who were stretching and warming down.

For the Fab Five, there is unfinished business.

``Everyone loves a storybook ending,'' Lilly says. ``Everybody wants to go out with a gold.''

Foudy says the U.S. secret over the years has been the closeness of the entire squad, not just the five veterans. Though she jokes that the Fab Five charge ``initiation fees'' if younger members want to be recognized, Foudy says it's important for all team members to get along.

``On this team, we've always had big sisters and little sisters. There's always integration,'' she says. ``For this team to be successful, you have to be inclusive.''

Younger members of the team say they are motivated to send the 91ers out on top.

``We obviously want to give them something to smile about at the end of their career,'' Abby Wambach says. ``We have an added sense of responsibility.''


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press