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Sep 25, 2003

Stone's Slant on U.S.-Nigeria

It's HAMM-er time! (note to aspiring writers ... always, always utilize a M.C. Hammer reference when given the opportunity)

I thought before this Cup started that this was going to be a tournament dominated by Hamm. Combine her World Cup swan song, with a fierce desire to go out on top, and you had the makings of a dominating performance ... i.e. tonight. Two goals, one assist, to go with her three-assist performance Sunday and she is now the top scorer in this tournament.

You could see the fight in her eyes (how about the stare downs tonight?), in her voice (during an injury break in the first half it was Hamm who gathered the team around and was barking at them), and obviously in her feet. And as always it was more than just offense that Mia provided. Huge hustling runs to win the ball back for your team will guarantee you the love of your teammates and the ball when you want it. The only thing that surprised me by her performance, was the fact that she was still on the field to end the game (think April Heinrichs was questioning that decision when Mia received the reverse head butt in the 76th minute?).

New formation and three new starters for the States, with mixed results. Aly Wagner was yanked at halftime due to ... well ... was she even out there? Bad 45 for her, but it will serve as nice future motivation for her. Kylie Bivens and Cat Reddick were solid if unspectacular ... kind of what you want from your defenders.

Officiating was worrisome, and thankfully it did not affect the final result. Both penalty kick calls involved issues that bothered me.

First off, not sure it was a PK for the U.S. in the early minutes. Yes, Cindy Parlow was sandwiched, but where she was and the stage of the game, I would have swallowed the whistle. I believe Nigeria's physical play reputation led to that call, as the ref wanted to set a tone early.

Then on the second U.S. penalty kick, why in the world did Julie Foudy have to rekick it? Please, help me understand this. Yes, the Nigerian 'keeper jumped early and WAYYYY off her line, but Foudy's strike still found net ... why punish the fair play and reward the violator?

The lack of speed in the States' defensive back line is a bit of problem. Nigeria's limited offensive chances were for the most part a result of outpacing the U.S. defenders. Second game in a row we witnessed this, and you know it is all over future opposition's scouting reports.

And to conclude, I end on a pressing issue within the U.S. camp. What is the deal with April Heinrichs and her "Steve Spurrier visor look"? I thought he had that thing trademarked. Does this mean she can now change her starting center midfielder every game? Is she allowed to say "dag gummit" and throw it to the turf after a bad call? Can she taunt Tennessee? Yes, these are things I actually think about...

-- Rob Stone is covering the Women's World Cup for ESPN.