Manthei makes most of chance

This has been a watershed season for Holly Manthei.

In November, the freshman midfielder from Burnsville, Minn., helped lead Notre Dame to the NCAA final in Portland, against North Carolina.

Since then, Manthei's spent much of her time in Florida, where she's training along with 25 or so other players who hope to be representing the United States at the Women's World Cup in Sweden this summer.

While she probably won't beat out Julie Foudy or Tisha Venturini for a starting midfield job, Manthei (pronounced man-thigh) has established herself as a valuable member of the veteran U.S. squad.

"I think she has a good chance to make it," said U.S. coach Tony DiCicco. "She's left sided, but she can play both sides. It's nice to have that versatility."

The fact that she plays on the flanks has boosted Manthei's stock considerably. With Manthei, Staci Wilson and Tiffany Roberts, among others, the U.S. now has plenty of options in an area that used to be thin.

Also, with World Cup teams now allowed to bring 20 players, Manthei's chances of making the Sweden squad can only increase.

Coincidentally enough, she got her initial shot with the national team in January because of an injury to college teammate Cindy Daws. With Daws unable to train with the U.S. in Phoenix, Manthei was brought in as a replacement

"I got a call, 'Cindy Daws is having surgery again. You're our first alternate. Can you come in?'" Manthei said. "I thought it was for the [NSCAA] all-America banquet, and I said, 'No, no, we're not coming.' It was bad for Cindy, but it was good for me."

Since joining the U.S., Manthei has impressed with her speed and aggressive defense. She's played in six full internationals, including a start against Portugal in the Algarve Cup. But she has yet to score a goal.

That's an area that both the U.S. coaches and Manthei agree she has to work on. More content to set up others on her college team, Manthei concedes she has to develop more of a scoring mentality when with the national team.

"Since I was a little kid, I'm not comfortable in the goal box," she said. "It's a lot easier knowing you have people who can put the ball away."

In particular, the coaching staff has been working with Manthei on her heading. At 5-8, she is one of the tallest U.S. players.

by Soccer America Associate Editor Dean Caparaz

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