Thu, May 29, 2003 - Page 20 News List

US rushes to prepare for women's soccer World Cup

AP , NEW YORK

The US soccer community had nearly three years to put together the 1999 Women's World Cup, and it was a rousing success.

It has 3 1/2 months to organize this one, and anyone expecting a repeat of the 1999 extravaganza might be disappointed.

Still, bringing the tournament to the US after FIFA moved it from China because of the SARS virus was about the only way to save the event. Sweden, the other bidder, does not have the infrastructure or the venues to satisfy FIFA's needs.

But World Cup '03 almost certainly won't reach the phenomenal heights of four years ago, when the US pulled off a neat hat trick:

-- Winning the title for the second time, beating China in a penalty-kick shootout;

-- Selling out US games in NFL-size stadiums as women's soccer was on the front pages of newspapers for nearly a month;

-- Creating so many stars it spawned the first women's professional soccer league in this country, the WUSA.

This year, the US might very well win again. It certainly will be favored over Norway, Germany, China and Brazil. But to expect 50,000-plus crowds -- or to even schedule many games in stadiums that big -- is unlikely given the competition in late September through mid-October.

Getting the sport in the headlines against the NFL, college football and the baseball pennant races is a formidable challenge.

"Things must come together really quickly," said Tony DiCicco, coach of the 1999 champions and now the WUSA commissioner. "I know comparisons will be made, they have to be realistic.

"Ticket sales will be much more of a challenge this time.

"At the same time, I remember in 1999 it took a long time for people to recognize what was happening. Now they will know and that is one of the positive things.

"I still think we can have a tremendous event, but in four months of planning as opposed to 36 months."

Among the most significant matters US Soccer must accomplish in less than four months are arranging for venues worthy of a World Cup, and scheduling 16 doubleheaders without overburdening the teams with too much travel.

And organizers must do it on a budget of between US$8 million and US$14 million, with no guarantees from FIFA that it will cover any shortfalls.

US Soccer already has set up an e-mail address for tournament volunteers.

"We're looking at a likely scenario of four to seven stadiums with half of those able to seat over 50,000," US Soccer secretary general Dan Flynn said.

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