Women's World Cup: What Happened to the Spirit of '99?

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More than a decade ago, Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain led the U.S. team to victory. But they failed to make professional soccer successful afterward.

FIFACup_Final_edited-1.jpg

Reuters


Every week, our panel of sports fans discusses a topic of the moment. For today's conversation, Emma Carmichael (writer, Deadspin), Patrick Hruby (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), Jake Simpson (writer, The Atlantic), and Hampton Stevens (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), talk about the Women's World Cup soccer tournament, which has its quarterfinals this weekend.


Hey, guys,

I can identify a single period in my life in which knowing every player on a roster and every relevant statistic truly made a difference in my social life. For me, nothing in sports has matched it since. It was during the summer of '99, which, you might recall, culminated in the U.S. national team winning the Women's World Cup after a penalty kick shoot-out at the Rose Bowl. As far as I was concerned, not a single other relevant thing took place between late June and mid-July of that year. I was a member of club soccer America: an ever-expanding army of pony-tailed, shin-guarded adolescent and teenage girls who all swore they would grow up to be The Next Mia Hamm—or, if they were slightly rebellious, The Next Brandi Chastain.

I'll assume that this sentiment is, for the most part, specific to the distaff side, and I'm frankly surprised that both U.S. Soccer and FIFA haven't explicitly catered to that nostalgia in marketing this year's Cup: Chastain, Julie Foudy, and Briana Scurry are all on board for ESPN's coverage, and Hamm is doing some writing for espnW. But what would be more effective in attracting that formerly soccer-obsessed population to the games than, say, a 30-second Miracle-esque spot featuring the '99 team? Disney & Co. certainly has the relevant footage.

I ask because I'm not sure who exactly is watching this year's Cup, and unless I missed it, I didn't see a great effort at attracting sentimental saps like myself. I'll watch anyway, because it's great soccer and because yes, I am a cornball, but I still wonder: Did FIFA and U.S. Soccer both miss a great opportunity to market its sport and its team? Do they expect the interest to be implicit, or to just segue into the next generation of club soccer America? And (as I don't believe you're currently of that subset, Patrick) if you plan on watching the U.S. play Sweden this week and/or in its quarterfinal this weekend, what will be the draw for you?

–Emma

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Patrick Hruby, Jake Simpson, and Hampton Stevens 

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