By Al Mattei


The scene was inside a tavern in Washington, D.C., the day the U.S. women's soccer team played China in a scoreless 120-minute World Cup final in July 1999. Patrons, many of them D.C. United fans partying before an evening game at nearby RFK Stadium, filled the bar an hour before kickoff.

The sound was off, but the pictures painted a picture of defensive intensity. Both China and the United States were shut down for two halves of regulation and for the two halves of extra time.

About 10 minutes into extra time, it dawned on one United fan: "Wow, Sobrero is having a heck of a game out there."

High praise, indeed, for a player whose outstanding defensive efforts in only a couple of years on the U.S. national team have earned her a place amongst legendary names in women's soccer like Hamm, Akers, Overbeck, and Lilly.

Kate Sobrero is an interesting duality in the world of women's soccer. She exhibits some of the qualities of Dennis Rodman, as well as other qualities which are the exact opposite of the outrageous NBA player.

She gained a small amount of notoriety for dyeing her hair bright red for the World Cup, and she works extremely hard from her defensive slot on the field, often having to mark the opposing team's leading scorer or playmaker.

But unlike Rodman, Sobrero is quiet and reserved off the field, allowing her teammates to do the lions' share of the appearances and publicity for the team.

"If I wanted the glory, I wouldn't be a defender," Sobrero says. "I can just do my thing without being noticed, and I don't have the pressure that someone like Mia (Hamm) has."

Sobrero, a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, did not have the most auspicious debut with Team USA. In training camp in 1998, she broke her jaw in a collision with her future World Cup teammate Tracy Ducar.

She earned her first cap on April 26, 1998, and played in 33 of Team USA's next 34 games, 28 of them as a starter. Going into August 2000, she has started 38 of the 39 games in which she has participated.

Her reliability and excellence ought to serve her well as one of three national team players allocated to the New England entry in the Women's United Soccer Association in 2001.

As such, perhaps her individual efforts may get more attention when she isn't overshadowed by her U.S. teammates. Sobrero, however, is not the kind of player to seek out attention.

"It's just the nature of any sport," Sobrero says. "How often do you notice the cornerback in football? You always hear about the wide receiver. The media capitalizes on the people who make the goals, make the plays. But it's OK."

She doesn't make a notch in her boots for every time she helps her goalkeeper maintain a cleen sheet. Nor can she tell you any single game in which she has had a memorable defensive performance. However, she does recognize her role as an extremely important wing or central defender.

"Whenever we play Brazil, I usually mark Katya, and she's just as fast as I am," Sobrero says. "(In the 1999 World Cup final), I wound up playing Sun Wen a lot -- she was in my area. There's a top four from every team that are very tough to play against. I have to play against anyone on our team (in practice) and that's pretty tough as well."

Sobrero, going into the 2000 Olympics, has been on a remarkable streak with the U.S. women's team. It not only won the 1999 World Cup, but has won a remarkable string of tournaments in 2000: the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the Algarve Cup, the Pacific Cup, and a tournament commemorating the 100th anniversary of the German soccer federation.

"I still haven't won an Olympic gold medal," she says. "It's been a dream of mine since I was a little girl. But I'm on the best team in the world, and I'm surrounded by the best players in the world who push you every single day."

And that's pushing her to an even higher level -- if that's possible.