BEIJING -- If the U.S. women's soccer team can upset Brazil in Thursday's gold-medal game (USA, 9 a.m. ET), would it be the greatest on-field accomplishment in the history of the storied U.S. program?
It's a question that's worth asking on the eve of what should be a fascinating matchup between the two bitter rivals. Granted, nothing the U.S. team does will ever match the lightning-in-a-bottle breakthrough of the 1999 Women's World Cup championship.
But that team was expected to win.
If this American outfit strikes gold, however, it would cap a remarkable transformation after the U.S. lost star forward
So I asked several U.S. players: Would a gold medal here be the team's greatest on-field feat?
"I believe so," says captain
"We have to play with all 11 players touching the ball," Markgraf says. "We have to. It's a totally different team because we can't be successful playing how we used to if we don't have Abby. I think it's forced our hand."
Here are six other things to ponder heading into the gold-medal game:
The U.S. and Brazil teams were both staying in the same hotel, and the American players were being consoled by their friends and families in the lobby after suffering the worst loss in the team's history. Then the Brazilians arrived.
"They came in chanting and hitting their drums and singing and dancing," recalls Markgraf. "They'd just kicked our butts so they were so excited. Some were dancing, but the other ones were just watching us and videotaping our reactions as they came through.
"Maybe it's a personal preference, but I think when you win you should be respectful to your opponent. And for them to videotape our reactions as they walked into the hotel ... I just wouldn't do that to another team."
Says Rampone: "They were just circling us and dancing. It's something I won't forget."
Thursday represents her best chance yet.
"I have complete respect for her, but at the same time you still have to play your game," says Markgraf, whose speed will be tested mightily. "You lay off her and she's going to score on you, and if you go in hard she's going to spin you. So you've got to do the best you can and play honestly. It's a very tough line to play against all these Brazilians."
The U.S. beat Brazil 1-0 in two exhibition games last month, but that Brazil team didn't have its three big stars: Marta,
"I think if U.S. Soccer were to let her go it would probably be the worst decision ever," says midfielder
In a sense, Sundhage's real value would be in how she could shape this U.S. team to play a skillful brand of soccer in the long term, not in how she could prepare this team over a few frantic months for the '08 Olympics. (But she's been pretty successful in that regard, too.) Given