MÖNCHENGLADBACH, Germany -- The U.S. women's soccer team is two games away from making history, and on the eve of Wednesday's World Cup semifinal against France (ESPN, noon ET) the biggest moment in that history -- the 1999 World Cup title -- remains both an inspiration and, truth be told, an albatross. But finally, finally, finally, these U.S. players are realizing, they have a golden opportunity to create their own iconic triumph before a national audience in the millions.
Let's be honest: You can't watch a second of ESPN's (mostly excellent) World Cup coverage without seeing one of the '99ers, whether it's Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain, Briana Scurry, Kate Markgraf, Mia Hamm or former coach Tony DiCicco. After the U.S. bounced Brazil in the most dramatic fashion possible on Sunday, goalkeeper Hope Solo and forward Abby Wambach got the superstar treatment on
It's a delicate balance: Today's U.S. players want to be respectful toward their legendary forebears, the sports pioneers who toiled in obscurity for years before their breakout moment in '99. But the Class of 2011 also wants to write a new chapter in the history of this team. Right now the U.S. women are like the younger sister of a high school genius/homecoming queen, a younger sister who has to listen to stories about her older sibling's greatness all the time.
"That's all we've ever heard about," said Solo of the '99ers here on Tuesday, just a few feet away from where Foudy was standing. "And we all know that they paved the way. But at some point in time you have to let go and build new stories and new names to the game. I think if there's any team to do it, it's this team."
"Somebody asked me [on Sunday], 'Is it that much more inspirational to win since it was on the 12-year anniversary of the '99 team winning?' I was like, 'None of us thought of that. We're here to
It hasn't always been easy for this younger generation. The '99 team had the Rushmore faces of their sport (Hamm, Michelle Akers, Kristine Lilly, Foudy, etc.), the HBO documentary and the head start from Title IX that gave the U.S. a leg up on most other countries. Today's players have to deal with more competition in the women's game: Japan and France, for example, are both first-time World Cup semifinalists. More teams than ever have the chance to win this tournament.
"It's hard," says U.S. midfielder Carli Lloyd. "What [the '99ers] did was legendary, and I never want to take away from what they accomplished. If it weren't for them, maybe I wouldn't be in this situation right now. They built so much. But I think we should be given a little bit more credit than we're getting. I think the game has evolved. It's a lot harder. The U.S. isn't just going to go out there and beat teams 3-0 or 4-0 anymore."
"I think we are going to write our own story," Lloyd added. "I think there could possibly be another movie about
Here are four other things on my mind heading into USA-France:
"If they call my name, I'll be ready," Sauerbrunn said.
A 26-year-old Virginia alum who plays in WPS for MagicJack, Sauerbrunn says there's no way she would be on this U.S. team were it not for the existence of the U.S. domestic league. She did play in two games against Japan in May when Christie Rampone was injured, but Sauerbrunn wasn't even sure she'd be on the final U.S. roster when she went into her meeting with coach Pia Sundhage before final cuts were made. ("I thought it was 50-50.")
Now she'll be starting in a World Cup semifinal. One thing that should help on Wednesday: Sauerbrunn is familiar with her central defender partner, Rampone. They both play alongside each other on their WPS team.
Solo, for one, said the biggest challenge the last couple days has been emotional, not physical. She didn't sleep at all on Sunday night due to the adrenaline rush, she said, and she was hoping to start looking forward to France on Monday morning. When she showed up at the team breakfast on Monday she was silent, not wanting to bring up the previous day, but so was everyone else. Finally, somebody spoke up: "That was pretty incredible last night." And they started talking about the game again.
"We couldn't just sweep it under the rug," Solo said. "We had to experience the emotions, had to welcome those feelings. Last night [Monday] we were finally, 'All right, new city, new stadium tomorrow, time to turn our entire focus to France.' But it did take a day longer than I thought it would."
(A random question going through the media center today: Has there ever been a good rivalry between the U.S. and France in sports? It was hard to think of one. The only lasting image in my mind was Vince Carter's straddle-your-head slam dunk over Freddy Weis in the 2000 Olympics, something of a one-sided rivalry.)
Is he the French Al Pacino? We'll find out on Wednesday.