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News - Here's mud in your eye

Finally, an Atlanta sports team that really hates to lose

You say you want a first-place team that plays with emotion? Pummels the living daylights out of its opponents? Oozes personality? You want a winner, Atlanta? You have one: The Beat.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's soccer. It's women. You don't know which is worse, do you? You'd rather watch real football, wouldn't you? Even though your choices are, let's see, the Falcons — currently generating excitement on the basis of Michael Vick, the NFL's No. 1 draft pick, who played fewer than two dozen college games; Georgia — who hasn't won a game of any significance in 15 years; and Tech, who plays an assortment of basketball schools and will never beat Florida State.

Speaking of Tech, George O'Leary should be so lucky as to have his team play the tough defense and aggressive offense the Beat plays at Bobby Dodd Stadium. The Beat is the most physical team in the WUSA. The members play so hard that Grant Field's green-painted dirt flies up in foot-high sprays every time their opponents land on it, which is often.

"But they're not trying to hurt people," says an admiring Ian Sawyers, coach of the Bay Area CyberRays, who battled the Beat to a 1-1 draw last week. "There's a couple of times when I thought they were a little late [on hits]. But they're just playing a hard physical game and sometimes that's a real important tactic to use. There's nothing wrong with it."

In fact, because Grant Field is exceedingly narrow by soccer standards, playing a tight, physical game is an excellent tactic. Not that the Beat's leading players need an excuse to play in your face.

"We don't like the idea of losing," says coach Tom Stone, understating to a remarkable degree. "We have a lot of people individually who do not like to lose. So when you have a bad night, those personalities like [Kelly] Cagle and [co-captain Cindy] Parlow and [Kylie] Bivens and [Dayna] Smith and others just kind of expand. Their personalities become a stamp on the game. And hopefully that's a good sign for us because when we aren't playing well, we certainly will be at least fighting."

Against Brandi Chastain's CyberRays the other night, the Beat started off sluggishly, as usual. They came out at halftime as a team transformed. Did Stone scream his head off? Not this time. But he thought about it.

"You go into the locker room," he says, "and sometimes you kind of look at your team and you ask yourself, did they just not bring it tonight? In which case a rant is in order. Or do they want to bring it, it's just not happening? And if you kick 'em when they're like that, you're not gonna get anything out of them.

"I really sensed that they wanted to play better, there were just too many things wrong with what we were doing. And before we could even find out if they had that fighting attitude, we had to correct a few things tactically. And I told them when we walked out of the locker room, once we start to turn the game, you'll get your legs back. You'll get excited."

The second half was no sooner under way than the Beat fielded the kickoff and Cagle scored in the 46th minute. From that point on, they were flying all over the field.

"Had we played 90 minutes like we played the second half, things might have been different," Stone says, referring to the dreaded draw, the bane of those of us who want a winner and a loser. "We had to dig ourselves out of a [0-1] hole. And what I'm so proud of this team is that when we've been in a hole, we've dug ourselves out most times."

That's why it doesn't pay to leave a Beat game early. Staying up on their opponents invariably produces at least one late-game chance. Most games, that's all the Beat needs.

The only thing not to like about the Beat doesn't involve the players. It's whatever idiotic department is responsible for such inanities as the tired "psyche-out-Brandi-Chastain" halftime skit involving two grown men cavorting in sports bras.

Memo to you Neanderthals out there: Get over it.

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