Hamm made it 3-1 in the 51st minute, and it appeared the USA would survive the difficult day.China, however, scored two late goals to escape with a 3-3 draw. “I had never seen anything like it,” said Amanda Cromwell, Michelle’s roommate in Sweden.Jumping from behind Michelle, Fan put her full force into the attempted header, but instead she drove her forehead into the back of Michelle’s head. Then Milbrett proved she was ready to contribute by putting the USA up 2-0 in the 34th minute. They had seen Michelle go down in a heap countless times, the victim of reckless tackles or futile stabs at limiting her effectiveness. Everybody who was watching was probably thinking, ‘I wonder how they U. is going to play without her.’ I was thinking, ‘I hope she’s not paralyzed.’” Tiffeny Milbrett, four months’ shy of her 23rd birthday, watched from the sidelines.“I was overwhelmed,” Michelle said, admitting that she had been unaware of what her teammates thought of her until then.
Six minutes into the USA’s match with China, Michelle Akers went up for a header at the top of China’s penalty area. Ironically, Amy Allmann, Michelle’s teammate from 1991 and college roommate at the University of Central Florida, was in the broadcast booth as the color commentator for ESPN2. “When they showed the replay, it was the first time I’d seen it,” remembered Amy. “Usually, Michelle gets whacked and bounces right back up,” recalled Tiffeny. I was worried for her, saying to myself, ‘C’mon Mish, get up!
A Chinese defender, Fan Yunjie, who would later play for the San Diego Spirit in the WUSA, went up with her. ’ And then horror set in when I heard Tony say, “Milbrett, warm up.’ I was like ‘Holy crap! ’” As Milbrett hurriedly prepared to enter the game, Michelle slowly got to her feet, and as had become her custom, waved off the stretcher. Because she was unconscious before she hit the ground, she landed badly on her right leg and sprained her MCL. Tisha Venturini put the Americans ahead 1-0 four minutes after the game resumed.
She expected to see some playing time, but mostly coming off the bench to rest Akers or Gabarra in games that had already been decided.
“Her injury scared the heck out of all of us,” Milbrett said. Because of her injury, I was playing far sooner than I or anyone had expected. She was just the same Mish with me, and being a rookie in my first World Cup, it helped knowing that however I played, she would always be consistent with me.
“I was devastated for her.” When she finally woke up, Michelle found stuffed animals, notes, and cards all over her bed and even on top of her.
Her teammates had written notes of encouragement and also messages expressing their admiration for her.