Why Tiffeny Milbrett is one of U.S. Soccer's all-time greats
It is absolutely criminal that Tiffeny Milbrett -- the diminutive striker who produced some of the U.S. women's national team's most glorious moments while reaching standards that elude so many among the sport's elite -- is not in the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
She's a slam-dunk, first-ballot entry, for her numbers alone, but in two go-rounds has failed to gain mention with the requisite two-thirds of the voting bloc. It makes you wonder what they were watching in the late '90s, when she and Mia Hamm formed the most potent attacking duo ever seen in women's soccer -- maybe men's, too -- while playing massive roles in boosting the U.S. women from virtual nobodies to national icons.
One glance at her numbers and you check the box next to her name: 206 caps (No. 8 on the U.S. list) with 100 goals (including seven in three World Cups and five in two Olympic games) and 64 assists (only Hamm, Kristine Lilly and Abby Wambach have more).
Only Wambach (184), Hamm (158), Lilly (140) and Akers (105) have scored more goals for the U.S. than Milbrett, and all of them picked up at least 90 percent of the ballots into the National Soccer Hall of Fame, aside from Wambach, who will as soon as she's eligible. Milbrett received just 57.3 percent of the vote in 2015, the first year she was on the ballot. She didn't woo over enough naysayers last year, and there's no telling how things will go when the 2017 ballots go out soon.
The problem might be that too many voters never saw her play, and her celebrity doesn't carry her further. She debuted in 1991, became a regular in 1995, and scored the most important goal of her career, to beat China in the 1996 gold-medal match, before anyone was paying attention. Her other big goals -- the header to force overtime in the 2000 Olympic final against Norway and the winner against Canada in 2003 Women's World Cup third-place game -- weren't in service of triumph or occurred off the radar.
Hamm received most of the attention, Milbrett not nearly enough. If you were there, you likely were entranced by the 5-foot-2 striker from Portland. If not, she's little more than a name on a list. That's unfortunate.
Milbrett was powerfully built, possessed a low center of gravity and had an explosiveness the women's game hadn't witnessed. She was ceaselessly inventive, a confident attacker who could destroy defenses with dazzling dribbles or with combination play. She and Hamm teamed to net 144 goals and 115 assists in about 120 matches over a half-decade and found their greatest success leading to and winning in 1999. Milbrett, now 44, was among the Americans' most entertaining, skilled and cerebral players, and her accomplishments are more impressive considering that she never really fit into the U.S. program.
She was a disciple of the late, great Clive Charles, an English pro who stayed in Portland after his NASL days were done and became one of the country's most respected and successful coaches, and he was big on preparing his team, giving his players the tools to succeed, then letting them figure things out on the field. Creativity, individuality and intelligence were prized, and Milbrett flourished for him at FC Portland and then as a three-time All-American, with 103 goals in 74 games, at the University of Portland.
Her philosophy didn't mesh with the tactical strictures imposed by U.S. coaches Tony DiCicco and, more so later, April Heinrichs, and she never fully felt part of the group. Twice she quit the team, after the 2003 World Cup and when she chose to play club soccer in Sweden rather than join Greg Ryan's residency before the 2007 World Cup. Who knows what she might have achieved in a more complementary setting -- or had she, like Brandi Chastain, had the ability to embrace the foreign concepts.
You can throw in an impressive club career, too. She played in Japan, Canada and Sweden, won the scoring title and MVP honor in the Women's United Soccer Association's inaugural season, which ranks No. 1 on our countdown of the best individual seasons ever in U.S. women’s club soccer.
There are 11 U.S. women in the National Soccer Hall of Fame following the inductions in March of Chastain and Shannon MacMillan, and good luck finding an argument against any of them. That Milbrett isn't among them makes zero sense, and it's up to the those with a vote -- yes, I have one -- to right this wrong, and do so now.
Scott French is a reporter for FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJFrench.