U.S. Women: Akers joins century club in 6-0 rout of Portugal

U.S. midfielder Michelle Akers joined one of soccer's most exclusive clubs today at Lockhart Stadium, scoring her 100th career goal as the USA defeated Portugal, 6-0, in its second match of 1999 on the road to the Women's World Cup this summer. Akers joins three other players in the Century Club and is the fourth leading scorer in the history of international soccer behind teammate Mia Hamm (103), and Italians Carolina Morace (105) and world record holder Elisabetta Vignotto (108). Akers' historic goal came in the 40th minute when Tiffeny Milbrett spun a corner kick into the middle of the penalty box and Akers met the ball on a full volley, slamming it into the right side of the net with her left foot past flying Portuguese goalkeeper Carla Cristina. The U.S. bench emptied onto the field after the goal and team captain Carla Overbeck presented Akers with the game ball in front of an adoring crowd. The 32-year old Akers, who almost scored her 101st goal several minutes later when she hit the crossbar from 40 yards out with a laser shot, played her college soccer at the University of Central Florida and lives in Orlando. "I'm so happy for Michelle," said Hamm, who got her 100th goal last Sept. 18 against Russia. "The spectacular goal she scored just shows what kind of player she is and how important she is to this team." "I'm just glad I could stick around long enough to score that many goals," said Akers, a 13-year veteran of the national team. "It's been a long haul in my time with the national team, but I like to look to the future and right now we are focused on preparing for the World Cup. That's our priority." Forward Kristine Lilly scored twice, giving her five goals in the last two games, as she registered her first career hat trick last Wednesday against Portugal in the first match between the two teams. With two goals today, Lilly upped her international goal total to 66, second only to Hamm and Akers in U.S. history. It was Lilly that got the goal-party started in the 24th minute. She collected a poor Portugal clearance on her chest in the right side of the penalty box, let the ball drop to the ground and hit a screaming half-volley from a sharp angle that sailed into the roof of the net. With Akers goal, the U.S. took a 2-0 lead into halftime. U.S. coach Tony DiCicco made all five of his substitutions at the break, giving a game to Christie Pearce, Shannon MacMillan, Sara Whalen, Danielle Fotopoulos and Tisha Venturini, and the latter almost immediately combined for the third goal. Lilly started the play, putting Venturini behind the defense with a diagonal pass behind the defense. Venturini's rolling shot beat the charging Carla Cristina, but as the ball rolled toward the open net, Fotopoulos, with a step lead on three Portuguese defenders, took no chances, slamming the ball into the open net from one yard out. Fotopoulos is coming off a record-breaking season at the University of Florida in which she set the all-time NCAA scoring mark and scored the winning goal in the NCAA championship game. The 5-foot-11 forward has looked very good in the first three weeks of residential training camp and the goal against Portugal was her fifth career score in 11 national team games. "It is great to see all the hard work pay off," said Fotopoulos, who rebounded from a serious knee injury to finish her college career with 118 goals. "But I have a lot of work to do to earn a spot on the Women's World Cup roster. The best thing about today was being here for Michelle's 100th goal. I have looked up to her since I was about nine years old and to be a part of that moment was awesome." Lilly added her second goal in the 71st minute, running onto a square pass at the top of the penalty box before lifting a beautiful finesse shot over Carla Cristina and into the left corner with the outside of her foot. Hamm scored her 103rd goal just two minutes later on a brilliant combination in the penalty box which saw her play a wall-pass in the air with Venturini before knocking the ball into the net from close range. "We were a bit impatient in the first half, but when a team drops all their players inside the 35-yard line, there's just not a lot of space to work, and it gets frustrating," added Hamm. "But we did a good job of possessing the ball, and sometimes that impatience can be good because it forces you to take risks to try to get behind the defense." MacMillan added the final goal when she sprinted to challenge a slow back pass >from Portugal captain Be and tackled the ball away from Carla Cristina, upending the goalkeeper in the process, before blasting the ball into an open net from 10 yards out. It was the second game in a row that MacMillan scored after getting just one goal in 1998, and upped her international total to 16. The USA has now gone unbeaten on American soil in 46 straight matches, a team record. The U.S. women now takes a week break before regrouping at their residential camp in Orlando, Fla. The team will then train for several days before departing for San Francisco on Feb. 11 in preparation for the match against the FIFA World Stars on Feb. 14, 1999, at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, Calif. The match will be part of the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup Final Draw, which will be held at halftime of the game. Jan. 30 in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. USA 6 Portugal 0. Goals: Lilly 24, 71, Akers 40, Fotopoulos 42, Hamm 73, MacMillan 79. USA -- Scurry, Overbeck (Whalen, 46), Sobrero, Fair, Fawcett (Pearce, 46), Chastain (Fotopoulos, 46), Foudy (Venturini, 46), Akers, Lilly, Milbrett (MacMillan, 46), Hamm. Portugal -- Carla Cristina, Sandra Silva, BT, Celisa, Adilia, Maria Joao Xavier (Susana Martins, 89), Paula Reis, Sonia Silva (Susy, 89), Rosalina, Patricia (Paula Cristina, 76), Carla Couto. Att.: 5,152.
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