The last time the United States won the women's World Cup, Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy were still playing, Abby Wambach had just led Florida to the college title and Alex Morgan was all of 10.
That 1999 title is so far in the distance, in fact, that captain Christie Rampone is the only current U.S. player who was part of the watershed tournament.
"It's been way too long — 12 years — since we brought home that trophy," goalkeeper Hope Solo said. "Twelve years is a long time."
Ending that drought is the Americans' sole objective at the World Cup, which begins Sunday and runs through July 17 in nine cities across Germany. One of the four top seeds, the U.S. plays its first group match Tuesday against North Korea in Dresden, then faces Colombia on July 2 in Sinsheim and Sweden on July 6 in Wolfsburg.
Two-time defending champion Germany and Brazil, silver medalist at the last two Olympics and runner-up at the 2007 World Cup, are also top seeds.
"Everyone has the final game on our minds, and winning it," Wambach said. "But we can't skip any steps to get there."
Despite coming up short at the last two World Cups, the Americans haven't exactly been in a slump. They've won the last two Olympic gold medals and begin the World Cup as the No. 1 team in the world. They arguably have the world's best goalkeeper in Solo, and one of the most prolific scorers in Wambach.
Yet the Americans aren't the juggernaut they once were, either.
Part of that is a credit to other countries, many of which are seeing the results of the additional resources they poured into their programs over the last decade. But the U.S. has also been uncharacteristically inconsistent of late, particularly during the past year.
After going more than two years without a loss, the U.S. dropped three games in five months.
The Americans were stunned in the semifinals of regional World Cup qualifying by Mexico, a team that drew once and lost 24 times in the previous 25 clashes, and which had to win a two-legged playoff with Italy just to get to Germany. The U.S. lost to Sweden in the Four Nations opener, though it did go on to win the tournament, and then was beaten by England for the first time since 1988.
And now the Americans take a relatively inexperienced squad into the World Cup, where the stadiums will be loud and the pressure intense. Thirteen of the 21 players were part of the gold medal squad in Beijing, but only eight have played in a World Cup.
Should the U.S. win its group, it would face the runner-up in Group D — Brazil, Norway, Australia or Equatorial Guinea. A potential showdown with Germany looms for the semifinals.
"They just haven't shown that normal consistency of excellence that the U.S. is known for," said Tony DiCicco, the U.S. coach in 1999 who is now an analyst for ESPN, which will broadcast all 32 matches from Germany live. "[The team] has had great games and then all of sudden it has a game that seems subpar. I'm not sure why that is."
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