Shannon MacMillan during some WUSA action. (Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)

This story originally was published in the September 1996 issue of Soccer New York

By Michael Lewis

ATHENS, Ga. – It’s funny how heroes are born. Some slide right into the role. Others do it by accident.

Then there’s Long Island native Shannon MacMillan, who just wanted to be part of the U.S. women’s Olympic team.

Playing hero? That was something to dream about.

But dreams do come true, as MacMillan dramatically discovered, within a magical 143-minute span over three games.

* She scored in the 2-1 opening-round victory over Sweden July 23.

* She tallied the game-winning goal in extratime over hated archrival Norway in the semifinals July 28.

* And she recorded the first goal of the gold-medal match against China in what turned into a 2-1 triumph Aug. 1.

Quite a memorable 10 days for someone who had been cut from the team last year.

After the Norway goal MacMillan said, “Never in my wildest drams did I think I would ever do something like this.”

And then after winning the gold medal, MacMillan said, “Oh my gosh, this is the best feeling in the world.”

Only eight months prior, MacMillan was expereincing the worst feeling in her wold. Even though she was the women’s college player of the year, MacMillan couldn’t make the first USWNT cut last December. One of the coaches told her that she hadn’t made the team, but that they might call her back.

“My world ended that night,” MacMillan said.

“I lost it leaving the meeting. I lost it in the card. I lost it at the airport in Portland when my friends picked me up. I thought my career was over.”

But then fate intervened. Nine players were locked out of camp – or was it strike? – over a dispute with the U.S. Soccer Federation on how much players should receive for winning medals. Coach Tony DiCicco called MacMillan back.

“I supported the players who were out, but it was a break for me,” MacMillan said. “And I was determined never to give [DiCicco] the chance to cut me again.”

He never did, although DiCicco asked MacMillan to play out of position at midfield rather than forward. MacMillan never complained, only playing her heart out.

MacMillan has been doing that since she stepped onto the field to play for the Huntington Lucky Stars of the Long Island Junior Soccer League when she was 11-years-old. She played for the Lucky Stars for three years before her family moved to Escondido, Calif. for good.

MacMillan went on to greater fame at the University of Portland, scoring 87 goals in her four seasons, leading the Pilots to the 1995 Final Four.

But no goals were more important than the ones she scored here.

MacMillan struck in the 2-1 first-round victory over Sweden, but after the ever-elusive Mia Hamm sprained her ankle in that match. DiCicco decided to change his tactics and bring MacMillan off the bench, at least for the next two matches.

It seemed as though MacMillan, who turns 22, on Oct. 7, would never get off the bench in the semifinal against Norway. Despite her injured ankle, Hamm started the match and played extremely well. MacMillan stood next to DiCicco for a good portion of the second half before the coach decided to put the 5-5, 130-lb. midfielder into the game, replacing former Portland teammate Tiffeny Milbrett in the 96th minute.

“I was in his face for most of the second half,” MacMillan said.

Four minutes later, MacMillan’s face was somewhere else as she slid head-first on the Sanford Stadium grass on the University of Georgia campus, celebrating her winning goal.

“I just remember running around and falling into the team’s arms,” she said. “I was so ecstatic.

“It was a great coach decision,” DiCicco said with a smile. “Shannon – we had her up and down three, four or five times, I had no hesitation of using her.”

As if fate were on her side, MacMillan struck again in the final to jump start the U.S.

“We trained all ear for this and we knew our dividends were going to come today,” MacMillan said. “Not one person was going to let this team down. Everyone out there fought with their heart and soul.”

Of course, there is something called sharing the wealth, and MacMillan, who would up as the Leading U.S. goal-scorer with three goals, certainly was far from a one-woman team. Ironically, it was Milbrett, with whom MacMillan terrorized opposing defenses at Portland who scored the game-winner.

“It’s great, very exciting,” MacMillan said. “We both have the potential to put ball away. It’s just amazing that we’d both do it here.”

It was simply amazing that MacMillan just got the chance to do it at all.