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Saving the legacy of Briana Scurry

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

The play that won the 1999 Women's World Cup was the not the famous one. It wasn't Brandi Chastain scoring the winning penalty kick, ripping off her shirt and getting mobbed by teammates with the Rose Bowl, and the nation, cheering on.

The United States defeated China that day and a phenomenon was born, a team of legends created and a way of life – ponytails dancing across suburban soccer fields – cemented.

But that wasn't the play that won it. Scoring a goal in penalty kicks, even the clincher, is big. But it isn't as big as saving one. That day in Los Angeles, every single American and Chinese player scored in PK's.

Everyone except China's Liu Ying, who was denied by a pouncing, lightning quick American goalkeeper named Briana Scurry.

It was the save of a lifetime, a brilliant bit of anticipation (did she actually jump the gun?), experience, guile, fundamentals and athletic ability. A 5-4 shootout victory is not about who scores, but who stops one.

Scurry stopped Liu and two rounds later Chastain, by virtue of timing, became the star.

Scurry never had a problem with that.

The plays that won the gold medal game of the 2004 Athens Olympics did not come from one of the U.S. team's five "golden girls." It wasn't the play of Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett, Kristine Lilly and Chastain, all appearing in their final game together, that held off a young but incredibly talented Brazilian team.

Those five got the full sappy feature treatment from NBC and that's fine. They deserved it. They were pioneers. Hamm, with her skill, looks and sheer star power, is one of the most influential American athletes of the last 20 years. She and her teammates took women's soccer to an unimaginable level in this country.

But the plays that sent them out on top came from their keeper.

It was Scurry who tipped away mutliple shots from Marta, made a diving save on Cristiane and held the fort against a furious attack until an extra-time goal gave the Americans a 2-1 victory and their triumphant finale for their pioneering five.

The Brazilians were better that day. They should have won and would have won except for Scurry, who was simply incredible. No one talked about her, though.

Scurry never had a problem with that.

It is quite possible that you never heard of Briana Scurry until the other day, when her coach called on the 36-year-old – now mostly a backup providing leadership and wisdom for her younger teammates – to deliver one more time for the Americans.

It was a strange decision. Scurry hadn't played a minute in this World Cup. Yes she had a track record against the genius Brazilians, but young Hope Solo was the goalkeeper now. She hadn't been scored on since a tournament-opening 2-2 draw against North Korea.

But Scurry took the field, answered the bell like she has been for the U.S. team for a decade and a half. It wasn't her fault. She gave it all she had. The U.S. got crushed 4-0.

Then Solo went to the media afterward and ripped her coach, Greg Ryan, and, in turn, Scurry.

"It was the wrong decision, and I think anybody that knows anything about the game knows that," Solo told the Associated Press after the game. "There's no doubt in my mind I would have made those saves. … You have to live in the present. And you can't live by big names. You can't live in the past."

No one is arguing it was the correct decision, although considering Brazil's speed and creativity, coupled with the lack of U.S. offense, the final result probably would have been the same no matter who was in net.

Solo had every right to be bitter with the decision. But, as she admitted later, she lost all credibility in taking shots at Scurry.

Hope Solo can only dream of being Briana Scurry, on the field or off of it.

This is the ultimate team-first, team-everything keeper who year after year delivered the most masterful performances in the most desperate of times. Then she smiled as she watched everyone else lap up the attention and endorsement money.

It's assuredly no coincidence that the one star that didn't look like the others, never got what they did.

But Scurry never had a problem, publicly at least, with that, either.

Solo, due to her outburst, was left off the team for Sunday's third-place game against Norway, a decision Ryan and the team agreed on. So Scurry will start, almost assuredly for the final time.

If anything, she deserves this one. This should be a day to hail the greatest and most important American goalkeeper of all time.

Instead, it is Scurry – in the shadows all these years only to get famous for being put in a bad place by a bad decision and being called out by a bad teammate – dealing with unwanted attention.

The entire situation is a shame. Briana Scurry deserved so much more than that. Her swan song should have been about appreciation, about honoring a career like no other, and acknowledgment that she should have gotten those commericals and magazine covers, too.

Instead, she takes the field dealing with Hope Solo's little tantrum.

Forgive me for rooting for one final shutout, one day in the sun at last, for Briana Scurry.