Tiffeny Milbrett tallied twice for the USWNT in the 2000 Olympic gold-medal match. (Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)

The last time the USWNT played down under was at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. They dropped a dramatic 3-2 extratime decision to Norway in the gold medal game. I was covering the Summer Games for several publications and websites.

The first game vs. Australia will take place at Stadium Australia in Sydney on Saturday, Nov. 27 at 3 p.m. local time (Friday, Nov. 26 at 11 p.m. ET on FS2) and the second will be at the McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle on Tuesday, Nov. 30 at 8:05 p.m. local time (4:05 a.m. ET on ESPN).

Here is my 2000 story for U.S. Women’s Soccer Magazine.

By Michael Lewis

U.S. Women’s Soccer Magazine Editor

SYDNEY — It wasn’t supposed to end this way.

Not with the U.S. women’s national team fighting back tears, watching Norway celebrate its Golden Goal. Not with second-half substitute Dagny Mellgren scoring that dramatic, emotional goal 12 minutes into extratime to earn the Norwegians the coveted gold medal. Definitely not with a 3-2 bitter defeat to their archrivals.

In a perfect world, this confrontation was supposed to end with the Americans taking a victory lap around Sydney Football Stadium on Thursday night (Sept. 28, 2000), climaxing and celebrating their dominant decade of the international game. Instead, they will fly home with a silver medal, trying to look for a silver lining.

This game for the ages had a little bit of everything, from lead changes to last-minute heroics to mistakes by an inexperienced goalkeeper to even a spectator running onto the field and climbing the American goal before he was escorted off the field by police in the final minute of regulation.

“We won a silver medal,” U.S. coach April Heinrichs said. “We were golden tonight.”

“It’s numbing,” said forward Tiffeny Milbrett, whose two goals kept the U.S. in the match, including the equalizer two minutes into stoppage time in regulation. “Both sides gave everything. . . . We played the game of our lives.”

So did Norway, which rebounded from a 2-0 defeat to the defending Olympic and world champion U.S. in the opener. The Norwegians are the only ones to own a winning record (15-13-3) against the Americans. In fact, they are also the only side to beat the Americans in the three Women’s World Cups and two Olympics, accomplishing that feat twice (the other time was a 1-0 result in the 1995 WWC). The Americans are 3-2 against the Norwegians and 19-0-4 vs. the rest of the world in those competitions.

“Norway, they just know how to beat us,” Milbrett said. “They just have our number.”

Last night, the number was three, as in the number of goals the Norwegians scored and shots on goal they placed before a crowd of 22,848.

The third one was the most devastating. Norway coach Per-Mathias Hogmo said he hoped to take advantage of the lack of international experience of goalkeeper Siri Mullinix, 22, who had only one international appearance before this year.

Hege Riise sent a long ball into the penalty area that U.S. defender Joy Fawcett headed toward Mellgren. The ball hit the upper left arm of Mellgren and fell to the ground. With defender Kate Sobrero on her back, Mellgren fired a low, seven-yard shot toward the right corner. Mullinix dived and tried to slap it away.

“She got a good shot,” Mullinix said. “I got a hand on it. It wasn’t enough.”

“It’s unbelievable,” defender Gro Espeseth said. “It was a magic moment.”

And a moment the U.S. would rather forget. Referee Sonia Denoncourt of Canada, who was a good 15-20 yards behind the play, was not in a position to rule a hand ball. U.S. captain Julie Foudy tried to argue the call with Denoncourt, who told the midfielder that the ball went off Mellgren’s chest.

“Don’t do this to me, Jules,” Denoncourt said.

The U.S. came out fired up, striking in the fifth minute. Mia Hamm ran onto a through ball by Foudy down the left wing and sped into the penalty area with defender Goeril Kringen just to the right of her. Hamm got a step on Kringen, who fell to the ground while she tugged in vain at the U.S. forward’s jersey. Hamm ran to the edge of the goal box and shuffled a short pass to Milbrett, who one-timed it off her left foot past goalkeeper Bente Nordby from seven yards into the left corner.

While the U.S. held a superior territorial advantage in the opening half, the taller Norwegians managed to equalize off a corner kick in the 44th minute. Riise placed an outswinger to Gro Espeseth, who beat defender Kate Sobrero and headed an eight-yard shot toward the upper left corner past Mullinix. The ball already had crossed the goal line before Shannon MacMillan tried unsuccessfully to backheel it out of harm’s way.

“When the U.S. scored very early, I said, ‘Oh no, not again,’ ” Espeseth said. “Why should they win again and again and again?”

Added Heinrichs, “They walked into halftime feeling good about themselves.”

Buoyed by the momentum, the Norwegians took advantage of a Mullinix gaffe in the 78th minute when the 22-year-old goalkeeper ill-advisedly came out of the net and collided with Fawcett. Ragnhild Gulbrandsen headed the ball into the unattended goal from 10 yards.

“That’s my style, that’s my game,” Mullinix said. “I’m going to play my style. It happens. I didn’t get the ball and the ball hits her on the back and it rolls in. That’s the game.”

The U.S. forced goalkeeper Bente Nordby to make nine saves (Mullinix had none), although the biggest stop of the night was made by Kringen, who headed a Kristine Lilly shot off the line in the 61st minute. Ironically, it was Lilly who saved a shot off the line in extratime to help the U.S. outlast China in last year’s Women’s World Cup final in the U.S

The Americans’ persistence paid off two minutes into stoppage time as Milbrett, the U.S. player of the tournament, headed in Hamm’s right-wing cross from seven yards.

“That was probably one of my finest goals ever,” Milbrett said. “And just as far as importance. I never score a goal like that because I’m 5-2.”

But the U.S. could never find that magic again.

“We needed to step it up just a little bit more,” Milbrett said. “But maybe the rigors of the tournament and how much pressure we put on ourselves, we just didn’t step up when we needed to.”

 

Norway 3, U.S. 2

Women’s Gold-Medal Match

Sydney Football Stadium

Sept. 28, 2000

 

United States: Siri Mullinix, Christie Pearce, Brandi Chastain, Joy Fawcett, Kate Sobrero, Lorrie Fair, Shannon MacMillan (Cindy Parlow, 69th minute), Julie Foudy, Kristine Lilly, Mia Hamm, Tiffeny Milbrett.

 

Norway: Bente Nordby, Brit Sandaune, Goeril Kringen, Gro Espeseth, Silje  Joergensten, Hege Riise, Solveig Gulbrandsen (Unni Lehn, 34th minute), Monica Knudsen (Christine Boe Jensen, 90th minute), Mergunn Haugenes, Marianne Pettersen (Dagny Mellgren, 83rd minute), Ragnhild Gulbrandsen.

 

Goals: U.S. — Tiffeny Milbrett (fifth minute), Tiffeny Milbrett (90th minute). Norway — Gro Espeseth (44th minute), Ragnhild Gulbrandsen (78th minute), Dagny Mellgren (102nd minute).

 

Yellow cards: Norway — Gro Espeseth (76th minute), Unni Lehn (84th minute), Goeril Kringen (91st minute).

 

Att.: 22,848.