The Long Way Home

Women's World Cup '99: the latest stop on the U.S.'s road to glory

"A perfect example is Brazil," Foudy pointed out. "Nonexistent 10 years ago. I would have laughed if someone said they could win it in 10 years. But they've gotten more organized. It's still not up to par, but they've got so much talent that, if they ever get totally organized," she laughed, "everyone else is in big trouble."

"This is my game. This is My Future. Watch Me Play." That's the slogan of this Women's World Cup. Sixty-three countries set out to put their game on display— and 16 (up from 12 in '91 and '95) will get the chance.

The U.S. is in Group A and will make its debut in the opener on June 19 in Giants Stadium against Denmark, who came in seventh and sixth (respectively) in '91 and '95. With the exception of Norway, Denmark posts the best record against the U.S. with a 3-6-1 mark. Nigeria, also in Group A, is making its third trip to the World Cup and great things are expected from "Marvelous" Mercy Akide: keeping up with her coif is almost as hard as keeping up with her moves. Rounding out the group, and in the World Cup for the first time, is North Korea, who is expected to play a more technical game, as opposed to the highly physical one expected from Denmark. The U.S. has never gone up against Nigeria or North Korea before, and it's hard to know what to expect from them. But all three U.S. opponents can expect a grueling game.

American vets include phenom-forward Mia Hamm, who has agility, accuracy, and a building named after her on the Nike campus in Oregon. Julie Foudy cocaptains the team with defender Carla Overbeck. She is joined at midfield by Kristine Lilly, who has more caps (international game appearances) than any man or woman in the history of soccer. And this will be the last World Cup for trailblazing Michelle Akers, who plans on retiring after the 2000 Olympics. Other key vets include Joy Fawcett, Brandi Chastain, and keeper Brianna Scurry.

Being considered the best women's side in the world is not easy for the U.S., as the team heads into its biggest tournament ever— on home turf, no less. Taking them there is coach Tony DiCicco, who has been with the team since 1991 and was named head coach in 1994. His squad is experienced— there are eight players with over 100 caps— and successful. And according to both Foudy and Akers, their challenge will be to stay focused. "I think that we're the best team in the world but we can't expect to just show up and win," Akers said.

Certainly expectations are highest for the home team, and a successful World Cup here could do wonders for the game at all levels, and create needed momentum for the professional women's league that is currently set to be launched after the 2000 Olympics. Change in coverage is already evident. "There's hardly time to wipe your nose," laughs Akers when asked about the increase in demand, especially compared to the early days. "It's kind of a pain in the butt, but in looking at the big picture, it's good. It shows the sport has grown."

"It's a long time coming," agrees Foudy. "I'm glad it's finally here."

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