Sports Briefs

Posted: Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Women's World Cup returns to United States

The Women's World Cup is coming back to the United States this fall, four years after captivating the country with a championship team that made household names of Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain.

Soccer's governing body awarded the tournament to the United States on Monday three weeks after the showcase event was removed from China because of the SARS virus.

But, unlike 1999, this World Cup will be run on a smaller scale and will face logistical challenges as it runs into the thick of the sports schedule in the United States.

''I don't think it will be the caliber that it was in '99,'' said Carla Overbeck, captain of the 1999 U.S. team. ''But the United States is capable of doing a lot of great things in terms of organizing tournaments.''

FIFA selected the U.S. bid over one from Sweden and said the 2007 World Cup will be in China.

The decision by FIFA's eight-member emergency committee in Zurich, Switzerland, was widely expected because the United States was considered best equipped to handle the 16-team tournament on such short notice.

''There's no sense of relief,'' U.S. Soccer Federation president Bob Contiguglia said. ''There's no time, really.''

The World Cup will take place in about the same time Sept. 23-Oct. 11 with only minor schedule changes, FIFA said. The USSF expects the schedule and venues announcements in a week to 10 days, or a little longer.

The tournament will be held in four to seven stadiums, with sites determined by FIFA and U.S. organizers. World Cup costs were estimated at $8 million to $14 million by USSF secretary general Dan Flynn.

At the last Women's World Cup, the Americans beat China in a shootout in the final before a Rose Bowl crowd of 90,125. Chastain's winning kick and her exuberant celebration in which she ripped off her shirt was perhaps the tournament's signature moment.

The World Cup put the women on center stage, provided the impetus for their own pro league and gave a big lift to all women's sports. Soccer jerseys with Hamm's name on the back became a fixture for girls across the country.

''There's nothing quite like playing in front of 90,000-plus screaming USA fans,'' Chastain said. ''If we could do that again, it would be marvelous not only for the players on the national team, but for every young girl especially who comes to any WUSA game or hadn't had the opportunity in '99 to come to a game.''

In 1999, however, the games were in June and July, with little competition from other sports. This fall, the World Cup faces the NFL, college football, the end of the baseball season and the start of the NHL season.

''It will make it more difficult with these dates,'' said Alan Rothenberg, who organized the 1994 men's World Cup in the United States. ''Ultimately it is tougher to nail down the stadiums we need to use because of possible football commitments. It's a lot easier when you have the summer all to yourself.''

Unlike the men's World Cup, which began in 1930, the women's event is fairly new and is not embraced with the same global fervor. The first Women's World Cup was in China in 1991, when the U.S. team won. Norway won in 1995, when Sweden was the host.

''While it won't duplicate what we did in '99 in terms of the time of the year and the years of preparation that we had, I think it can be special,'' U.S. coach April Heinrichs said. ''There's a buzz about it.''

The leading contenders to hold the U.S. games are RFK Stadium in Washington; Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass.; Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio; and Home Depot Stadium in Carson, Calif., which opens in June.

Other cities interested include East Rutherford, N.J.; Atlanta; Philadelphia; and Pasadena, Calif.

''In terms of time, you're limited,'' current team captain Julie Foudy said. ''It's now under four months ... so throwing something together that quickly is hard to do.''

The USSF has TV contracts with ABC and ESPN for the tournament. Had the games been in China, they would have been shown in the early morning. Flynn said the USSF is working on new arrangements both networks have college football and NFL commitments, and squeezing in soccer could be difficult.

''The ESPN schedule clearly poses some challenges. It's a very fluid process,'' Flynn said. ''The network is doing everything to accommodate the games and U.S. team games in particular.''

Swedish soccer authorities said they were not surprised by FIFA's decision. Only four cities in Sweden have stadiums with more than 20,000 seats.

U.S. Soccer plans to use staffers from Major League Soccer and the Women's United Soccer Association to run the World Cup.

China will retain its automatic qualification and the number of spots for each confederation will remain the same, FIFA said. Mexico will compete in a playoff for the final slot.

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