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

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I'll start with Emma's first question: Is women's soccer missing a sepia-tinged marketing opportunity, a chance to bask in the retro glory of the sport's Greatest (American) Generation? Probably so. But maybe that's the right move. Times change. Not always for the better. Reveling in the world-beating, top-doffing, Letterman Top 10 list-reading summer o' feel-good exploits of Chastain and Co. would be more than a celebration of hearts and minds once won.

It would be a reminder of everything lost since.

The '99 Cup kick-started the launch of a major women's professional league, the WUSA, which subsequently folded due to financial woes and a general lack of fan interest—despite the presence of Hamm and other national team heroes. (Unlike the WNBA, the WUSA did not have a wealthy patron—read: the NBA—willing to subsidize operating costs as part of a forward-looking, loss-leading, gender equity marketing push). The WPS, a smaller, less-ambitious reboot, currently struggles to stay afloat. And while the Title IX-powered American squad once rode roughshod over international competition—a global hegemon to match, well, the United States as a whole—countries like Germany, Brazil and even England have caught and surpassed the red, white and blue.

Speaking of which: In the summer of '99, as Emma enlisted in Hamm's army, I was a young reporter covering my first major assignment, following the U.S. squad all the way to the title match at the Rose Bowl. Looking back, it was the perfect coda to the American Century: our Cold War enemies vanquished, the tech bubble booming, housing prices forever going up, our politicians squabbling over a budget surplus, all of us believing that this really was the End of History, and that the good guys had won. Time to kick back under a perfectly California blue sky—President Clinton was in attendance, and really, where else did he need to be? In the Situation Room hunting Osama what's-his-name and Evil Bert?—and watch our pig-tailed champions pass a tough, yet never-in-doubt test against ... China. The helpful country (not our rival!) making all of our cheap consumer stuff.

So yes: I'll be watching this year's tournament. With melancholy. Am I the only one who feels this way?

–Patrick

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