July 9, 1999
The U.S. women's soccer team captured its second World Cup Saturday, defeating China in a thrilling overtime shoot-out. Prior to the game, correspondent Spencer Michels looked at the team's success and the sports growing popularity.
SPENCER MICHELS: The American women's soccer team -- Olympic champions from three years ago --is on a roll: in the last three weeks, the women have powered their way past Denmark, Nigeria, North Korea, Germany, and Brazil. They've played before bigger crowds than any women's soccer teams ever -- in fact any women's teams in any sport. And they have captured the imagination of the nation. The American women are generally regarded as the best in the world -- a reputation China is also vying for.
Yet, until the Women's World Cup finals began in this country three weeks ago, hardly anybody was paying attention to the competitive women's version of a sport that -- in its male configuration -- entrances most of the world except the USA. Americans -- girls and women included -- play a lot of soccer -- and just not professionally. An estimated 7.2 million females take part in America -- most of them learning the game early in school, in public leagues and in private camps like this one in San Jose, California. Camp director Dave Gold, a former player and professional coach, says the women's game is catching up with the men's.
DAVE GOLD: It's the number one participation sport for children. Our camps were 80-20 boys; now it's 50-50, and in some cases we'll have 60-40 percent girls.
SPENCER MICHELS: The youngsters' parents are paying $195 for a week of intense, morning-till-night soccer. The kids often choose this over other sports.
AMANDA SMITH: You get to like be aggressive and you get to run a lot, and you can score goals and it just feels so good if your whole team, you're like in a championship and you get to score a goal and you win the game and you get a trophy and it just feels so good and everybody's cheering and screaming and taking pictures. And so, it should feel ten times better when you get older, and you're playing for like, like the World Cup.
SPENCER MICHELS: The Women's World Cup has inspired --and instructed --the youngsters, according to camp director Gold. He tells them what to look for while watching the games.
DAVE GOLD: Individual skills. There's some of the players, even defenders, have wonderful ball control, trapping the ball, turning with it, dribbling past people. Shooting is always exciting, and the tremendous goal keeping that's going on in the World Cup right now.
SPENCER MICHELS: Gold is a particular fan of America's star forward Mia Hamm, who has scored an amazing 111 goals in international play, more than any other player of either gender.
DAVE GOLD: She's got tremendous acceleration. She can turn on a dime, and then blow past people with her power. She's grace and motion and power all in one. She's just a fabulous athlete.
SPENCER MICHELS: Mia Hamm is one of seven U.S. women players who have been together since America won the first women's World Cup 1991 in Beijing. The American team is a high-spirited, talented, coordinated group, whose dominance in the sport has helped bring out the fans this year. Among the other stars is mid-fielder and 11-year-veteran Julie Foudy -- who chided the American press for only lately discovering women's soccer.
JULIE FOUDY: We've always said that this is the best-kept secret, this team, and so we welcomed all the hoopla and thought that, you know, it's about time. Where have you guys been?
SPENCER MICHELS: Crowds of up to 80,000 have been turning out for some of this year's Women's World Cup games-- and 90,000 are expected at the finals. Advertising executives figured there was enough attention generated to put some of the American stars into commercials -- like this one for NIKE shoes that touts the togetherness of the U.S. team -- even at the dentist.
PLAYER 2: How'd it go?
PLAYER: He had to drill; I got two fillings.
PLAYER 2: Then I will have two fillings.
DENTIST: But, Mia, I just examined your teeth; they're perfect.
SPENCER MICHELS: This ad, for Gatorade, -- with Mia Hamm and basketball great Michael Jordan -- stresses athletic ability:
SPENCER MICHELS: The endorsements have brought extra money to some players, on top of the $30,000 to $40,000 they earn, for their six months with the U.S. team.
The Chinese team that faces the U.S. tomorrow is a tough opponent. This team failed to win the first World Cup eight years ago and was disbanded by the government. But it has been reorganized and now the pressure is on again -- so much so that at a news conference in San Jose last week, when the Chinese coach was asked what was fun about the tournament in the U.S., he said dourly, "Only winning." Tracy Lu is the interpreter for China's team.
SPENCER MICHELS: I just heard the coach of the Chinese team say this trip wasn't fun, it was just work.
TRACY LU: Being a soccer player -- the most exciting achievement will be that you get a championship at the World Cup. So that is really, you know, pressure at first.
SPENCER MICHELS: The Chinese team apparently disbanded after it lost in 1991 in China, is that true?
TRACY LU: Yeah, yeah. yeah, that is the fact because of the biggest disappointment about that result of China team at the first World Cup.
|The big game against China.|
SPENCER MICHELS: Norway, the defending champion, had a completely different attitude toward World Cup play, according to mid-fielder Hege Riise, She spoke before her team played the Chinese in the semifinals.
SPENCER MICHELS: The Chinese coach was asked whether he was having any fun here, and he said no.
HEGE RIISE: No?
SPENCER MICHELS: He said no.
HEGE RIISE: Wow!
SPENCER MICHELS: Are you having fun?
HEGE RIISE: We're having fun all the time. So, wow! That's amazing. How can they not have fun?
SPENCER MICHELS: I guess because the pressure is on, because they need to win. Do you feel that kind of pressure?
RIISE: No. We won in '95, and that's our championship. We don't defend
a championship. We go on and we will try to win this time, but we take
one game at a time, and hopefully we'll be in the finals.
GARY CAVALLI: I think they have to first of all get a good TV deal. I mean, nobody knows better than the ABL how important television is, and that was our big problem. And secondly they have to get sponsorship. Will the corporate sponsors support women's soccer, on an ongoing level, not just on a one time women's World Cup championship level, but on an ongoing basis?
SPENCER MICHELS: Even men's professional soccer is just holding its own in the U.S. So it may not be a question of women's sports: soccer in America is at issue.
GARY CAVALLI: The big issue of soccer is, is there enough scoring? You know, Americans like fast-paced, high scoring games, and in soccer you have a lot of these one-nothing games.
SPENCER MICHELS: But soccer professionals like Dave Gold say Americans are now learning to love both men's and women's soccer.
DAVE GOLD: It's a great television sport, if you're educated in the game. A zero-zero game can be a wonderful game. It's not all about scoring goals. So as the American public gets educated, so will the fan base grow.
SPENCER MICHELS: That's long been the cry from soccer enthusiasts. Tomorrow's U.S.-China championship at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena is already a sell-out, and will be shown on ABC TV. The games have made the sports pages and local TV highlights for three weeks now. Soccer fans say a U.S. win -- even a good game -- would go a long ways toward advancing women's soccer as a major American sport.