- The Washington Times - Monday, October 6, 2003

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The numbing semifinal loss to Germany ended the U.S. women’s impressive World Cup run.

There’s still a game to play, but it’s not the one they had hoped for.

The defending champions will face Canada on Saturday in Carson, Calif., for third place. Germany and Sweden play in the title game on Sunday.

A championship would have been the United States’ third in the four World Cups. It would have meant most to Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Kristine Lilly and Joy Fawcett. They have played in all four World Cups since the inaugural event in 1991.

This is the last one they will play together. Hamm and Fawcett have both said they plan to retire after the Olympics in Athens next year.

“It’s been a great journey, every step of the way,” said coach April Heinrichs, who was the captain of the U.S. team that won the World Cup title that first year.

Heinrichs gave the team off yesterday after the 3-0 loss to Germany, just the second in World Cup play for the United States.

“It’s difficult when you lose, and it’s difficult to get yourself together for another game,” Heinrichs said. “We’ll take a few days off, and spend some time together.”

The last time the Americans lost in World Cup competition was in 1995, when they were defeated 1-0 by Norway in the semifinals. Norway went on to win the title with a 2-0 victory over Germany, while the Americans claimed third place with a 2-0 win over China.

Hamm, who set up quality shot after quality shot in Sunday’s loss only to see her teammates thwarted by the Germans in front of the goal, burst into tears at the game’s end. Later she smiled as she spoke glowingly of her teammates.

“I wouldn’t change this team for any other team in the tournament. I wouldn’t do it,” she said. “It’s an amazing group of athletes that became an even more amazing group of people.”

“I’ve never been a part of a team that genuinely cares as much for each other as this does. Every member of this team would do anything for any other member, on the field or off.”

The fans cared about them, too.

The U.S. women became international celebrities in 1999, when they dramatically beat China on penalty kicks to claim the title on home soil at the Rose Bowl. Afterward, images of defender Brandi Chastain — in a celebratory pose without her jersey — were splashed across newspapers worldwide.

The possibility of a repeat put the spotlight back on the Americans this year — particularly after the tournament was moved from China because of fears over the SARS outbreak.

But there would be no celebrations Sunday night. Chastain, who broke her foot in the opening match against Sweden, instead took the field to console her teammates.

Forward Abby Wambach sat stunned on the field for a long while after it ended.

When the Americans finally made their way off the field, the crowd of nearly 28,000 at Portland’s PGE Park saluted them with a standing ovation and chants of “USA! USA!”

“It was a hard loss because of the way it went down,” goalkeeper Briana Scurry said. “They were bending and bending, but they didn’t break.”

Sweden beat Canada 2-1 to advance to the final.

None of the Americans wanted to talk about Canada and the consolation match just yet. The focus was still on the pain.

“It’s the end of an era,” Scurry said. “Another chapter in the book.”

Fawcett, the team’s co-captain and anchor, was asked what she was going to tell her three daughters about the game.

The 35-year-old defender broke into tears and then walked away.

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