Dusseldorf: The US women`s soccer team shared the Yankee Stadium scoreboard with Derek Jeter, made an appearance on "Good Morning America" and can now count Tom Hanks, Lil Wayne and Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers among their list of star-studded admirers.
Like Mia, Brandi and Foudy more than a decade before them, Hope, Abby and the rest of the Americans have become quite the sensation thanks to their performance at the World Cup, a rare turn in the spotlight for US 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.”
"Hopefully, as an added bonus, we come back with the cup."
Unlike the American men, for whom making it out of the group stage at the World Cup is a strong showing, the US women have been soccer`s dominant team for about as long as anyone can remember. They`ve won three of the four Olympic gold medals to go with their two World Cup titles. 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.
But US fans can be a fickle bunch. They`ve become so accustomed to the women`s success they yawn at anything less than a World Cup title, and the Americans haven`t won soccer`s biggest prize since that `99 squad did it. Haven`t produced a team that comes close to duplicating that group`s rock star appeal, either.
Until, perhaps, now.
"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."
The only thing Americans love more than a winner is one with "U-S-A" emblazoned on its chest, and the fact the women are a gritty, spunky bunch only heightens their appeal. 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 US 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."