It is perhaps an indication of the U.S. women's national team's popularity in the post-Mia Hamm era that the most important qualifying match the Americans have ever faced will not be available to television viewers.
And it's a crime.
We get so much soccer on TV these days -- every MLS game, with the right package; every game from Mexico's Primera Division; dozens of matches from England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France each week; regular telecasts of Australia's A-League; UEFA Champions League; CONCACAF Champions League; Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana from South America; Uruguayan, Argentine, Brazilian and Colombian league play; national team matches from around the globe; and, of course, wall-to-wall coverage of the World Cup -- that it's easy to forget what it was like 30 or 35 years ago, when PBS's “Star Soccer” trimmed an English game of the week (usually involving Liverpool) to an hour, “Soccer Made in Germany” made Cologne fans of us with a weekly broadcast on Channel 22, and Univision offered a slow-paced clash each Sunday from what was a most substandard Mexican League. We could watch the NASL final each summer on ABC's “Wide World of Sports.”
The U.S. women were the biggest thing in America 11 years ago, when the Women's World Cup enthralled the country and Hamm and Co. toppled a superior Chinese side on penalties in a packed Rose Bowl. Now, not so much.
Hamm has retired. Brandi Chastain, whose bra-baring celebration of that title triumph over China, was the iconic moment of '99, is strictly an amateur now. Michelle Akers is better known as a horsewoman than as the greatest of all female players. Mission Viejo's Julie Foudy (Mission Viejo HS) is a television commentator. Huntington Beach's Joy Fawcett (Edison HS) is, primarily, a mom.
Aside from forward Abby Wambach (Hermosa Beach) and goalkeeper Hope Solo, no U.S. women's player possesses star power. Nobody in the American game can match Brazilian superstar Marta. There are some outstanding U.S. players, but none have caught the imagination of the public -- and none aside from Solo have offered much in the way of personality.
Without that, winning is vital, and the Americans still win -- they've captured gold medals in the past two Olympics -- but they haven't reached a WWC final since that 1999 triumph. Germany will be a massive favorite to win its third successive championship next summer.
The U.S. likely will never dominate as it did in the 1990s. The landscape has changed drastically, and the gaps between the powers -- U.S., Germany, the Scandinavians, Brazil, some of the Far East nations -- and the rest has closed. That's a good thing. Mexico's upset victory over the U.S. in the CONCACAF qualifiers for next year's WWC is great for the sport, if not for the U.S.
The CONCACAF qualifiers in Mexico weren't on TV, not until Mexico's stunner. ESPN2 stepped up to show the Americans' must-win third-place match against Costa Rica, but there's nothing on the tube of the home-and-home playoff against Italy, which will determine the final of 16 berths in Germany next summer.
The U.S. won the first leg last week in Padua, claiming a 1-0 victory on a goal deep into stoppage by University of California senior Alex Morgan (Diamond Bar/Diamond Bar HS). They'll meet again Saturday in Bridgeview, Ill. The game (11 a.m. PT) will be shown on ESPN3, ESPN's online channel, which a lot of us can't access. We can follow along on U.S. Soccer's MatchTracker, I suppose.