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Injury may force Team USA to implement 'what if' scenario

CHICAGO -- As U.S. women's coach Tony DiCicco drew up his roster for the World Cup, he spent days going over every possible what-if.

What happens if the United States has to play a woman down? What happens if this player gets hurt? How about that one? Who plays in her place?Now DiCicco might have to use one of those disaster plans. Defender Kate Sobrero, who started all but one game she's played this season, has a sprained ankle and is questionable for tonight's game against Nigeria at Soldier Field.

"We've got some options," DiCicco said Wednesday. "The reserves are ready to step up."

Sobrero landed awkwardly on a bumpy practice field Wednesday after jumping to head a ball. She had to be carried off the field, but Dr. Mark Adams, the team doctor, didn't rule her out for tonight's game.

With more treatment Wednesday night and again today, her playing status depended on how she responded.

"It's a huge loss," forward Tiffeny Milbrett said of the possibility of Sobrero not playing. "Her experience, all the games she's played, is invaluable. (But) everyone's played so many times together. At any given time, I believe he (DiCicco) could take one player off and put another on and we'd be just as good."

It's not as if the U.S. reserves are scrubs. This isn't like high school, where the reserves sit on the bench, praying for just a few minutes of playing time so they'll get their varsity letter. These backups can play.

Shannon MacMillan and Tisha Venturini were starters on the 1996 Olympic team that won the gold medal. Many won at least one national championship in college.

And Milbrett, Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy weren't on the field the entire time as the United States went 15-2-1 in pre-World Cup matches. The reserves got plenty of minutes, and everyone on the roster started at least one game this season.

"I'm very confident whoever plays will do well," forward Cindy Parlow said. "That was one of the keys throughout the lead-up. We do have tremendous depth. All nine of our reserves can step up at any time."

If Sobrero can't go, Tiffany Roberts, Christie Pearce, Lorrie Fair or Sara Whalen are the likely replacements. Another option is a return to the 3-4-3 formation that the United States used for many years.

"We have options, based on the athleticism and speed of the Nigerians, that we can use," DiCicco said. "If we need to, we'll certainly reach into our athletic players to help out."

Having Sobrero is preferred. Though she's made only 27 appearances with the national team, compared with more than 100 for seven of the other starters, the 22-year-old plays like a veteran. She quickly worked her way into the starting lineup after being invited to the national team's training camp in January 1998.

One of the fastest, most physical players on the team, she excels at tracking down opponents who've managed to break free. In Saturday's 3-0 victory over Denmark, she had two impressive plays in front of the net, including one early in the game when it was still scoreless.

"Kate's been playing great and I'd feel badly if she's not able to play," DiCicco said. "She deserves the chance to continue playing in the World Cup and establishing herself as one of the best defenders in the world. And I think she's well on her way to doing that."