The interview room had long emptied by the time U.S. co-captain Julie Foudy trudged through on Sunday, nearly two hours after Germany had stunned the Americans 3-0 in the World Cup semifinals in Portland's PGE Park. It seemed overly cruel that Foudy had drawn drug-test duty, preventing her from addressing her devastated team and leaving its most vocal leader alone with her silent regrets. "You're just sitting there by yourself thinking, playing back plays, what we could have done," Foudy said, her voice cracking, the usual smile gone from her face. "All the different scenarios."
The story line was eerily similar to that of the U.S.'s only other defeat in 23 World Cup matches, a 1-0 semifinal loss to Norway at the 1995 tournament in Sweden: European contender grabs early lead on well-executed corner kick, then fights back relentless American surges for the upset. ( Germany's two injury-time goals made its victory appear more convincing than it was.) Yet this loss was even tougher to swallow, for it not only came on home soil but also doomed the final World Cup for the Greatest Generation of women's soccer pioneers: Foudy, forward Mia Hamm, midfielder Kristine Lilly and defenders Brandi Chastain and Joy Fawcett.
As the U.S. prepared for this Saturday's third-place match against Canada, it was possible to draw some lessons from this World Cup.
?The American mystique is gone. As the Germans recalled last week, they were so cowed by the U.S. during their quarterfinal loss in World Cup 1999 that they considered asking the Yanks for their autographs afterward. Not this time. "A lot of us played in the WUSA, so we knew that they were not better than we are," said German forward Birgit Prinz, whose seven goals led the Cup through Sunday. "In '99 their pressure scared us. Everybody was like, 'Oh, my God, don't give me the ball.' This time it was different. We knew we could play one-on-one and beat them." In fact, it was the Americans who were hurt by chronic hesitation on Sunday, while the Germans exuded confidence and skill in their first touches on the ball.
?The future is force. Move over, Uma. The next time Quentin Tarantino needs an ass-kicking female lead, he should consider 5'11", 170-pound forward Abby Wambach, the bruising 23-year-old whose three goals (and innumerable crash-'em-ups) made her the tournament's breakout U.S. star. Wambach and 5'11", 155-pound front-runner Cindy Parlow, 25, a.k.a. the Banger Sisters, could strike fear into opposing defenders for the next decade. By contrast, 5'5", 135-pound playmaker Aly Wagner, 23, fizzled in her much-anticipated Cup debut, starting only twice and having little impact as a sub.
? Coach April Heinrichs is lucky to keep her job. In countries where men's soccer trophies are always expected ( Brazil, Italy, etc.), the failure to win in consecutive major tournaments (the 2000 Olympics and '03 World Cup) would result in the coach's quick exit. But U.S. Soccer president Robert Contiguglia voiced his support for Heinrichs last week, saying she would continue through next year's Olympics. Will Heinrichs stick with her veteran roster (average age: 27.6 years), which was the oldest in this year's World Cup? Or will this dispiriting defeat accelerate me youth movement?
One thing's certain: The Greatest Generation doesn't want to go out on a losing note. "Right now you want another chance, there's no question," Foudy said on Sunday when asked about the Olympics. "But at the same time I want to let this sink in. I want to feel that this is the s—tiest way to go out." Judging by their collective gloom, the Americans were fulfilling Foudy's desire just fine.