Kicking It with ... Siri Mullinix
No one has stood taller in the WUSA playoffs this year than Siri Mullinix. After holding the regular-season champion Boston Breakers scoreless for an entire match and two grueling overtime periods last weekend on Boston's home turf, the Washington Freedom goalkeeper saved two of four penalty kicks to send her team back to the Founders Cup for the second year in a row.
Already in San Diego for Sunday's match (ESPN2, 4 p.m. ET) with the Atlanta Beat, Mullinix spoke about several topics including her strategy on PKs, the rapidly-approaching Women's World Cup, and the impending decision that U.S. National Team manager April Heinrichs must make on who her starting goalkeeper is from a very qualified pool of WUSA keepers.
Connolly: What goes through your mind right before you have to stop a PK?
Mullinix: I put all the pressure on the shooter in a situation like that. They're forced to put a good shot on goal. I also try -- ninety-nine percent of the time -- to just react. Maybe one or two shooters will step up where I think I know where they are going so I'll anticipate the shot going to one direction. I'll maybe sell myself to that direction.
Connolly: For a player like Kristine Lilly or another player who you've played with and know quite well, do you ever get caught up in mind games where you're thinking 'she knows I know she'll go left, so maybe it's right, but then again …' or anything like that?
Mullinix: With players like Lilly, who I have played with and against many times, I do know that she is strong going to her right. But I have also seen her go left. It's a situation where you try and play the odds. If you feel that a player is going to her dominant side, you have to go with your gut. If you think about it too much and are undecided, you get caught flat-footed.
Connolly: Is there anything you've seen a keeper do anything memorable as far as psyche out tactics against the shooter?
Mullinix: Not really. For me, I think it's different depending on whether it's a PK in the game or in a shootout. I try to delay a bit, and make sure that the kick is taken when I'm ready, not the shooter. I won't get on the line and let the kicker readjust their shoes or place the ball down three times. I try and be the last one to the line. It forces them to wait on me, which gives them a little more time to think about the shot.
Connolly: Last Saturday's victory - where does it rank among your all-time greatest victories?
Mullinix: I've played in a couple of National Championships [with North Carolina], so I guess it'd rank in my top five, if not higher. It'll stick out in my mind for sure. To be able to keep a team like Boston scoreless and be able to make two saves against some of the top players in the world, it gave me an incredible feeling. It says a lot about our team, considering all the good teams in the WUSA. To be able to be in that game alone is a great thing, so to be able to come through and move to the final says a lot about us.
Connolly: You win on a Saturday, get some rest, and then get to watch Atlanta play San Diego in the other semi on Sunday. What was that like watching that game? Was there any rooting interest?
Mullinix: Every five minutes I wanted another team to win. On one hand, I didn't want to play Atlanta because they are very competitive. But then, I did want to play Atlanta in one sense because we have such a good rivalry. Whether or not you want to play San Diego, you don't want to play them on their home field.
It was such a crazy game where it looked like San Diego was going to win. And then it was tied. And then Atlanta scores and wins. After the game, everyone was like 'What happened?'
Connolly: Did the team watch the match together?
Mullinix: We traveled back that day, so most people were watching it while vegging out on the couch.
Connolly: What do you make of the matchup?
Mullinix: It's exciting playing Atlanta because the rivalry is so big. One team tends to pull it out in the last minute. The games always seem close. What better way to settle it than play them in the biggest game of the year?
Connolly: How daunting is it to play against a frontline like Charmaine Hooper and Cindy Parlow, who are both proven scorers as well as being physical around the box.
Mullinix: You have to have a certain mentality to go up against those two. You have to be focused, because you're probably going to have some kind of physical combat at one point in the game whether it's two of us going up strong for a ball or in a scramble. Charmaine is a player who'll do kick, scream, fight and do anything she can for a goal. She's got a knack for scoring goals. You have to prepare for that, and expect anything on a cross or a breakaway.
Connolly: Knowing you have a National Team camp ahead of you out there and the World Cup a few weeks away, is it tough knowing that you won't have a break no matter how the Founders Cup goes?
Mullinix: No. It's the World Cup. So you do whatever it takes to be ready and get the rest you need. Actually, we'll get a few days off out here, so I think that'll provide enough momentum. Plus, there's not too much time left. It'll all be over soon. For so long, everything is 'the season, the season, the season.' Now you look ahead and it's soccer right until October 15, basically. I just have to fight and mentally prepare myself. The days off coming up will help, but so will all the adrenalin in having a World Cup at home again. That'll get us all through it.
Connolly: We saw the U.S. men's team have a question mark as to who would be the keeper right down until the end when Brad Friedel got the call. How will April decide between all of you? Is game performance first and foremost to her, or is training a big part of it as well once you all get in camp?
Mullinix: It's a little bit of both. But, yes, a lot comes down to how you've done overall this year in the WUSA. It's not about having the one bad game here and there, but your overall performance back there. At this point in the year, games will mean more as to where you are as opposed to a few training sessions. We don't have a lot of big training sessions left until the week of the World Cup.
Bascically, it's a decision that's up to April. No matter what it is, my goal is to be one of the keepers, and two, to make her decision hard when she has to pick the starter.
Connolly: It's like splitting hairs with three or four of you, who are all capable of getting the job done.
Mullinix: Yeah, and it's a big deal just to be in that mix. But everyone does want to start. Obviously, Briana has the experience of winning the last World Cup in '99, so that plays heavily. At the same time, I feel confident that I could go out there and help the U.S. Whatever way it happens, I'll be supportive and push the other keeper to give her what she needs.
Connolly: Where were you on that day in '99 for the final against China?
Mullinix: I was there.
Connolly: In the sweltering heat.
Mullinix: Yeah, up in the stands.
Connolly: That must give you even more motivation, having seen what went down on that day first hand.
Mullinix: Yeah, exactly.
Connolly: The last question centers around the men. We now have three keepers in the EPL, and everyone is talking about Tim Howard at Man. United. Did you grow up watching and admiring any of the male keepers, or was there a female you aspired to be like in the goal?
Mullinix: Brad Friedel was a keeper that I saw play at a young age at a camp that I went to. So he's always been in the back of my mind (as an influence). We can all definitely look up to the male keepers, but right now the potential to go overseas and play at another level doesn't exist for females.
Connolly: Because you guys are the Premier League.
Mullinix: Right. It's motivating to know that we have some of the best goalkeepers around the world that are men and women.
Connolly: Who have been trained by some of the same people, too. Tony Diccico has played a huge role with many of the male keepers through his camp, same for your goalkeeper coach, Phil Weddon. You've all come up with similar training and methods to playing the position.
Mullinix: Tony and Phil and others have their philosophies as far as physical training, but one thing (the American keepers) are strong at is the mental aspect. They preach being confident because so much of being a goalkeeper is that mindset where you won't let a ball past you. You need to step on the field thinking, 'I can make a difference,' and that's what we all seem to share.
Marc Connolly covers soccer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.