COLUMBUS, Ohio – If you haven't been paying much attention to the Women's World Cup, don't feel bad. It's understandable, what with the NFL, college football and the baseball playoff races in full effect.
Besides, we can quickly sum up all you need to know as the Americans as they head into Wednesday quarterfinal match against Norway.
The U.S.A is kicking A.S.S.
Sunday here in the heartland, the U.S. dispatched North Korea 3-0 to sweep through group play with a perfect record. This game was so easy the U.S. didn't even play Mia Hamm and some of its other top stars.
Instead they rested them for future challenges, which presumably will emerge.
If you listen to U.S. coach April Heinrichs, the road ahead is fraught with danger. But she also called Group A the "group of death," which the U.S. merely buried by a combined score of 11-1.
"You know I am always reluctant to be satisfied [but] I wasn't sure nine points [three victories] could be had in a group like this," Heinrichs said. "I mean, this is an incredible group. Some really good teams are going home."
Presumably that would include North Korea, which was supposed to be tactically strong, fit and well coached. All that can be said after the United States' ostensible second team made easy work of them is they all attended the exact same hairdresser.
How good is the U.S.? On Sunday they got two goals from Cat Reddick, who still is in college.
It was such a lopsided game you could hardly blame the crowd for getting like a hungry uncle at Sunday dinner and screaming for more Hamm. With the game never in doubt, that was all the crowd of 22,828 here did in the second half.
"They were chanting 'Mia,'" said Heinrichs, who never relented and kept the world best player under wraps. "That they want her here is great. We'd love to share her with everyone. But the reality is, a coach can't make emotional decisions."
Which means Hamm sat and rested up for the Norwegians.
"What happens on a day like today [is] you balance between wanting to stay sharp with touches and understanding that another day's rest is going to help," Hamm said. "This is about a team, it is not about any one individual player."
Which didn't curb the disappointment from the fans, who came to watch Ms. Mia and the team. Not just the team.
The crowd included Nomar Garciaparra, who got the day off because his team, the Boston Red Sox, had wrapped up a playoff spot early. So he flew to Ohio to watch Hamm, his fiancée, only to have her get the day off for the same reason he did.
"And it might be [Garciaparra's] only chance to watch her play," said Heinrichs, who apparently appreciates romance.
This was about the only disappointing thing about the first three games. Everything else surrounding Team USA appears to be humming on all cylinders. The offense is potent. The defense is tight. The young players are gaining experience. The older legs are rested. Goalkeeper Briana Scurry has been brilliant.
Having to compete, attention-wise, with all the major sports has cut down on the national interest. At least compared to 1999, when women's soccer was the summer's feel-good story.
But complacency is part of the problem too. If the U.S. won last time, why pay attention until at least the semifinals, right?
Heinrichs could go on for an hour about why that is silly and this is a balanced, unpredictable event. But until proven otherwise, she sounds like Lou Holtz before the Furman game, Jim Boeheim heading into a clash with Marathon Oil.
"Norway, they have three days rest, we have two days rest," Heinrichs is quick to remind about the quarters.
Yes, but Hamm is playing on five days rest.
After that there is the semis – Oct. 5 in Portland, Ore. – which could feature the Germans, probably the second-best team in the event. A finals rematch against China could develop Oct. 12 in Carson, Calif.
So Heinrichs is probably correct. Danger looms. Trouble is around the corner. This should get exciting. This should become worthy of your attention.
But if you missed the early going, you didn't miss much. At least not in Group-A play, which only resembled "death" because the U.S. so dominated, the fans wound up bored to it.
- Mia Hamm
- April Heinrichs