Briana Scurry stepped up big for the USWNT in the 1999 Women’s World Cup. (www.AndyMeadPhoto)

This story originally was published in Soccer Magazine in 1999.

By Michael Lewis

All tournament long, U.S. coach Tony DiCicco was trying to tell anyone who would listen that Briana Scurry was the best women’s goalkeeper in the world.

On a team that seemingly wins most of its games by an average score of 3-0 or 4-1, it might be difficult to truly appreciate Scurry’s abilities in goal because she hasn’t been called on to save the U.S. very many times.

Until the Women’s World Cup.

When she was called on to come through, Scurry came up huge for the U.S. – in two separate matches.

In the 2-0 victory over Brazil in a tightly contested semifinal encounter, Scurry made three key saves.

“Having Briana back there certainly is a calming force,” U.S. captain and defender Carla Overbeck said. “She is extremely athletic. She’s very dependable. We as defenders are going to make mistakes. But knowing Bri’s behind us makes all the difference in the world. She’s the best keeper in the world.”

Three plays defined the match.

With the second half barely a minute old, defender Nene lofted the ball from the right side. A backtracking Scurry slapped the ball over the crossbar with her right hand.

Scurry again was called on to work her magic in the 56th minute when Nene’s 15-yard blast forced her to stretch to her right to knock the ball away with her right hand. She was at it again in the 83rd minute, using both hands to bat away as 12-yard shot by Pretinha.

Asked if she thought it was her best game, Scurry replied, “Any game where I can do my part and get my team in the final of the Women’s World Cup is my best game. I definitely think today was my best effort in five years of playing with the team.”

Then, without being severely tested in the 120 minutes of regulation and extratime in the final, Scurry blocked the shot that will be recover etched into U.S. soccer history, denying Liu Ying on her penalty kick in the tie breaker. It was the only shot that was stopped as the U.S. managed to win in penalties, 5-4.

“I actually saw her body language walking,” Scurry said. “It didn’t seem like she really wanted to be there. I had a feeling about this girl. I did. I can’t explain it. I looked up at her and said, ‘This is the one.’ ”

Scurry, ahem, admitted she broke the rules a bit on the shot. Goalkeepers are allowed to move – to their sides – on penalty kicks. Scurry took a couple of steps toward Liu. She then dived to her left to bat the ball away.

“If I jump out and save, but the referee calls it back, they have to do it again,” Scurry said. “Now I know where they’re shooting and it’s even more pressure on them.”

For the most part, Scurry has been a law-abiding goalkeeper, recording almost as many shutouts (53) as the number of goals she has allowed (54) in her 96 international appearances for a minuscule 0.60 goals-against average.

For the record, since joining the national team in 1994, Scurry has forged a 77-8-6 mark on a resume that includes an Olympic gold medal and a world championship.

“I’ve said all along that’s she’s the best goalkeeper in the world,” DiCicco said. “She’s proved to be the best in the World Cup.”

Scurry, who turns 28 on Sept. 7, is not your typical women’s national team player – as one of only two Blacks on the 20-woman roster; backup goalkeeper Saskia Webber is the other.

She grew up as one of nine children in suburban Anoka, Minn. Obviously, she was good with her hands, excelling at soccer and basketball.

In fact, Scurry is considering a shot at the WNBA. She was an all-state basketball player in Minnesota – she was voted the best female athlete in the state in her senior year – before he was an All-American soccer player at the University of Massachusetts.

“I hope to change my focus in sports because basketball is the sport I love more than anything else,” she said.

If she tries her hand at the WNBA, the 5-8, 150-lb. Scurry might be in for a little role reversal while using her hands. She is used to blocking shots in soccer. She will be asked to take shots in basketball.

Being a “hands-on” soccer player, Scurry will find a way.