BY SCOTT FRENCH
It should have come as no surprise when Patrick Farmer was canned as the New York Power's head coach last week. His team was giving up goals by the boatloads and losing far more games than it won or tied, and the custom in pro sports when a team isn't succeeding is dumping the coach.
New York has played better than its 2-10-1 record indicates, but results are all that matter. A spate of injuries, especially at the back, has severely handicapped the Power, which has struggled to find a rhythm while plugging holes here and there. When the competition is seven of the best, say, 10 or 12 club sides in the world, such trouble is going to lead to defeat.
New York dropped its fifth in a row last Wednesday, falling to visiting Carolina, 3-2, after rallying from a 2-0 deficit to tie the score. The following day, Power GM Susan Marenoff -- decrying her team's ''underachieving our goals'' -- fired Farmer and elevated Charlie Duccilli -- Farmer's assistant -- to interim head coach.
''The team needed a change ...,'' Marenoff said. ''Pat worked very hard to make the best team he could. I really think we needed a different style, and that's what we've accomplished.''
''I think it's just all shocking,'' said Power captain Tiffeny Milbrett. ''You know deep down in your heart things are heading that way, but you never know when, you never know how, you never know how you're going to feel. Especially when you've never really been through it before. It's just unfortunate things like this do have to happen, but it's part of our world now.''
Duccilli, 62, took the reigns with Farmer's blessing, but that didn't make it any easier for him. Farmer is a close friend, he says, and as an assistant coach he accepts as much blame for the Power's failures.
''It was awkward, a little difficult,'' said Duccilli, who came to the Power after 17 years as the women's coach at Rutgers. ''However, I did have a contract, and they wanted me to be coach. If I'd rejected the offer, I'd probably be without a job.''
Farmer, 53, who won 233 games in 14 years as coach at Ithaca College and Penn State, guided the Power to the WUSA semifinals last year. The club couldn't recover from the loss of Norwegian defender Gro Espeseth, who retired after the inaugural season. Injuries -- to several players, including goalkeeper Gao Hong, defender Christie Pearce and defender-midfielder Sara Whalen -- forced Farmer to experiment with lineups, and the right mix never materialized.
''[Injuries] certainly have not allowed us to have consistent personnel on the field,'' said Duccilli, who played one season in the NASL (one goal in six games for the Philadelphia Atoms in 1973). ''That makes it hard to find the understanding and rhythm you'd like to see out there. Along with that, we've made some absolutely bad decisions defensively at times, and it resulted in goals that are very difficult to overcome when you're trying to turn the team around a little bit. Mentally, things get tougher with a goal in the back of the net.''
Said Milbrett: ''There have definitely been more than one, two, three games where we should have results in the win column. We haven't been able to [win no matter] how well we've done on the field. That's what's been unfortunate. ... We know we've done some good things this year. Of course, we've struggled, but in the course of those struggles we've done some good things. We deserve more than our record shows, and we know it.''
The biggest struggles have come defensively. The Power, ranked third in WUSA defense in 2001, has surrendered 38 goals in 13 matches and 16 in its past four, including a quartet in Duccilli's debut Saturday. If Philadelphia scores three on Sunday, the Power will eclipse Carolina's mark for defensive ineptitude with a third of the season remaining.
''Certainly in the defensive half of the field, we're trying to get on the right page with the backs and midfielders,'' Duccilli noted. ''They need to read each other a little better. It's not just the back four, it's combinations in group defending, it's double-teaming, it's sliding into different zones. I think it's a group effort, most of the goals we've given up.''
The attack has been fine -- it is ranked third in the league, like last season. Forward Tiffeny Milbrett, MVP and scoring champion in Year 1, leads the league in scoring with eight goals and seven assists. Emily Janss might be the WUSA's best 12th woman; she's scored five goals after netting just one last season.
Asked about changes in personnel or tactics, Duccilli -- who is far mellower than Farmer -- said there would be ''little subtleties here and there. My motto is 'One day at a time,' which I'm going to absolutely adhere to right now.''
The Power remains mathematically alive for a playoff berth, but reality is it isn't going to happen. Duccilli's goals are more modest. ''I'd love to see a few wins,'' he said. ''What's really important: We need to see these players play with confidence, play at the level [for which] they were brought here. ... They're here for a reason: They're good players [who need to] demonstrate that they are capable and responsible players.''
Attempts to reach Farmer were unsuccessful. He was asked 12 days before his firing, following a 4-3 loss at San Jose, whether he was concerned about his job security.
''Those aren't my decisions to make ...,'' Farmer replied. ''I certainly think the coach of the team in last place, they have to be under consideration for losing their job. I just think that goes with the profession.''
Marenoff said she ''most likely'' would not decide on a permanent head coach until the season was over, and that ''right now we're focusing on Charlie at the helm. ... He has the opportunity to be a head coach in the WUSA, and it offers an opportunity for the future as well.''
Goalkeeper coach Zac Shaw, who came with Farmer from Penn State, resigned from his position. Paul LeSueur, the Power's director of player relations, is assisting Duccilli until he hires a staff.