DUSSELDORF, Germany —Like Mia, Brandi and Foudy more than a decade before them, Hope, Abby and the rest of the U.S. women's soccer team have become quite the sensation thanks to their performance at the World Cup, a rare turn in the spotlight for U.S. soccer that could produce another watershed moment in the game.
Now the trick is to keep it going.
The Americans play France in the semifinals Wednesday night. Win, and they'll face either Japan or Sweden in Sunday's final with a chance to become the first team to win three Women's World Cup titles.
"It's overwhelming. It's amazing," midfielder Carli Lloyd said Monday morning, still savoring the United States' epic victory over Brazil in a penalty shootout Sunday night. "The support and buzz back home is really awesome, and I think it's helping women's soccer. This could be a huge turning point for the growth of soccer back home, and that's what we're trying to do and trying to accomplish."
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The 1999 squad was such a crossover hit that fans were on a first-name basis with Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain — or last-name basis in Julie Foudy and Kristine Lilly's case — and soccer moms and dads alike turned out in droves with their kids, packing stadiums from coast to coast for that year's World Cup.
"We're participating in something that's huge," said Abby Wambach, whose magnificent, leaping header in the 122nd minute Sunday sparked one of the most riveting finishes ever in a World Cup game — men's or women's. "Very few times does the spotlight shine so bright on women's soccer, and we want to prove to everybody around the world that we have a product and that product is worth watching."
Down a player for almost an hour, on the verge of their earliest World Cup exit ever, with Marta and the Brazilians pushing, shoving and whining for every call they could get, the U.S. responded with a can-do attitude that is uniquely — proudly — American.
After Wambach tied the game, Hope Solo denied the Brazilians in penalty kicks, her swat of Daiane's attempt so resounding it could be heard all the way back to the States.
With that, Americans from Hollywood to Hoboken, N.J., were hooked. FIFA said it was only the fourth time in World Cup history that a team came back to win after falling behind in extra time, and a first at the Women's World Cup.
"Go ahead, jump on the bandwagon and let's do this together," Solo said Monday on Twitter. "One Nation, One World, One Team."
ESPN's broadcast drew a 2.6 overnight rating, the best for a Women's World Cup game since 1999 and second only to that dramatic final at the Rose Bowl, when the Americans beat China on penalty kicks. The game was replayed on ESPN2 a few hours later, an honor reserved for "instant classics."
"It's just amazing that it's getting outside the soccer world," said Heather O'Reilly, who played 108 minutes three days after missing the final group game with a strained groin. "Soccer people have been following this World Cup and appreciate the game whether it's men's or women's. But now the general sports fan is really picking up on how special this team is and how special that win was. That's great."