• Friday Jul 15, 2011

    U.S. women share, step out of '99 shadow

    The names from more than a decade ago like Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain are never far from any discussion about U.S. women's soccer.

    Despite Olympic titles in 2004 and 2008, and now heading into Sunday's Women's World Cup final in Germany, the players of today's U.S. women's squad don't seem to mind.

    "Respect has to be given to the women that went before me," said forward Abby Wambach, who is tied with Michelle Akers for the most U.S. goals in a Women's World Cup with 12. "People ask me if I'm tired of the '99 story. If I said yes, I'd be indirectly slapping the women that came before me in the face.

    "They've given me the right to do this. This tournament is more exposed and popular, not because of the crowds or TV, but those women gave me a platform."

    The United States will play Japan on Sunday, the team's first trip to a World Cup final since the Americans won the 1999 title on penalty kicks over China.

    That victory 12 years ago was played before a sellout crowd of 90,185 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, -- still the largest audience to watch the U.S. women's team, and a television audience of 40 million in the United States alone.

    Even in this Women's World Cup, with a dramatic injury time equalizing goal and penalty kick victory over Brazil in the quarterfinals, Hamm, Chastain and Julie Foudy - all doing commentary on U.S. television -- are still casting a shadow over the current cast.

    "It's really cool," said defender Rachel Buehler, who was 13 when the Americans last won the title. "I remember the '99 World Cup very well. I was watching the game with my teammates, having a soccer party. Those players are my idols, and they are talking about us."

    Unlike its predecessors, this U.S. women's team hasn't rolled over opponents by a score of 18-3 on the way to the title match.

    It finished third at the CONCACAF championship in November and had to qualify for the World Cup via a playoff with Italy; it lost for the first time in the group stage, 2-1 to Sweden; and was only seconds from its earliest exit from a Women's World Cup until Wambach's goal against Brazil sent the match to penalties.

    "Of course we are a bit different from the '99 team," defender Ali Krieger said. "We have full respect for them and they paved the way for us.

    "But we are different team, a different generation and a different time. No one can repeat what they did. We're just trying to write our own story for women's soccer to enjoy."

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