With baseball play-offs and American football occupying sports fans, autumn is a
With baseball play-offs and American football occupying sports fans, autumn is a tricky time of year for soccer in the US...
But the SARS outbreak in Asia means the Women's World Cup is here, and fans ranging from kids in ponytails and braces, to Chinese dragon bands and even blokes in replica Arsenal shirts are watching what the world has to offer.
FIFA estimate attendances so far of 480,000 for the 24 group games, played as doubleheaders. Michael Johnson, head FIFA media officer for the tournament, says the governing body is "very satisfied" given that US Soccer had just three months to prepare.
"Attendance is not as big as 1999 but it's better than in other women's World Cups and we expect it to grow," he said. Witty television ads keep the players in the frame and you don't have to look far for World Cup news. Most centres on Mia Hamm and the World Cup-winning US team from 99, but rookies Cat Reddick, in for injured Brandi Chastain, and Abby Wambach have caught the media glare.
They stole the headlines on Wednesday when Wambach headed home Reddick's free kick to hand the USA a 1-0 quarterfinal victory over rivals Norway in Foxboro.
Earlier, fellow Group of Death survivors Sweden beat the Cup's youngest side, Brazil, in a match assessed by England manager Hope Powell as part of the tournament's technical study group.
Brazil had battered Norway 4-1 and topped Group B, but couldn't bounce back from goals by Victoria Svensson and Malin Andersson, despite teenager Marta's penalty equaliser.
Sweden and USA now head for Portland, Oregon, for semi's against today's (Thursday's) quarterfinalists China and Canada, and Germany and Russia, respectively.
The US's advancement is no doubt a shot in the World Cup's arm, but enthusiasm for the beautiful game is already high here.
"In Portland they love their soccer and don't care if it's their country or not, they just love soccer," Canada and University of Portland forward Christine Sinclair told me.
That was clear at Sunday's doubleheader at PGE Park when thousands rose to applaud Ghana, here since August.
"We felt like we were in Ghana," said African player of the year Alberta Sackey whose second goal was the 400th in Women's World Cup history. That 2-1 win over the Matildas prevented a shock early exit for China, facing elimination if Australia and Russia won that night. As it was, China outplayed Russia, but if the Steel Roses are to blossom they need to better three goals in three.
Opponents Canada are underdogs but boast six Under-19 World Championship players, several WUSA stars - and the Canadian border is just five hours drive away.
"We are expecting a lot of Canadians and it's very helpful in a big game like this," said coach Even Pellerud. First up, England's most recent opponents Germany, will play the side we face next, Russia. Yuri Bystritsky's tactically aware squad almost topped Group D but have not beaten their opposition in 10 meetings and will have their work cut out again.
Germany are unbeaten with 13 goals after group play and Maren Meinert, out of international retirement for the Cup, says: "We've scored a lot of goals and played well so we have a lot of confidence for the rest of the tournament."
On this form Germany could go all the way, but few are betting against Wambach and Co.
by Catherine Etoe