- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 17, 2015

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) - Brandi Chastain, part of the U.S. team that last won the World Cup, was excited to be a fan in Vancouver.

Chastain planned to cheer her head off for the Americans against Nigeria on Tuesday night wearing her Julie Johnston jersey. Chastain’s husband Jerry Smith coached Johnston, a defender on the U.S. women’s team, at Santa Clara.

“I’m here, for the first time, to be a spectator at the Women’s World Cup,” Chastain said. “I’m going to be a fan, I’m going to play a pickup game outside on the plaza, I’m going to walk with the American Outlaws to the stadium, I’m going to wear my jersey and cheer.”

Chastain provided the seminal moment of the U.S. victory over the 1999 World Cup, doffing her jersey and falling to her knees in celebration after defeating China on penalty kicks at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

It was the team’s second World Cup title; the United States has not won one since.

Chastain says that might change this year.

“I’m sure that their determination is at an all-time high. Ultimately, if they don’t over-try, they’re going to be great. Y ou know, when you try to force things, trying to get a goal, it becomes harder,” she said. “If they’re just patient, and they keep the ball and move the ball, if they can do that, it won’t be easy, but it will be easier.”

With Chastain cheering from the stands, The U.S. pulled through to the next stage. The team won the game against Nigeria 1-0 on Abby Wambach’s goal in the final minute of the first half.

The victory gave the U.S. team a first-place finish in its group, sending it through to the round of 16. The expanded field of 24 teams started this year’s World Cup, a monthlong tournament played across six Canadian cities that ends on July 5th back at BC Place in Vancouver.

Chastain started her day in Canada by surprising the young women from SoccerGrlProbs.com at the Nike Underground Experience in downtown Vancouver.

SoccerGrlProbs was the invention of a trio of players on the women’s team at Fairfield University, who started as a funny Twitter account addressing the unique issues only female soccer player can relate to. That led to a blog and now a gig following the team for Kick TV, a soccer-specific YouTube channel.

“For me, that was literally bucket list, I think I can speak for every one of us,” said Soccer Girl Alanna Locast said about meeting Chastain. “She’s been our idol since we were little kids. So it was the coolest thing ever, meeting her in person.”

Nike is not an official sponsor of the World Cup (rival Adidas is), so the Nike Underground is a clever way to have a presence at the World Cup. Nike is the official sponsor of U.S. Soccer and several other national teams, so the company still looms large over the event.

The pop-up experience, at the CBC Vancouver Broadcasting Centre, is part of Nike’s #nomaybes campaign. The Beaverton, Oregon-based athletic shoe and apparel maker dropped its “American Woman” ad campaign on June 8 in advance of the U.S. team’s World Cup opener. It features national team players Alex Morgan and Christen Press, among others.

Here’s what else was going on at the World Cup:

WHERE WE STAND: Canada, China, Germany, Norway, Japan, Cameroon, the United States, Australia and Brazil have all secured sports in the round of 16. The rest of the field will shake out after Wednesday’s matches. The top two finishers in each group and four of the third place finishers will move on.

AGE IS JUST A NUMBER: When 39-year-old Christie Rampone came in as a sub in the second half on Tuesday against Nigeria, she became the oldest woman ever to play in the Women’s World Cup. Rampone, the only member of the team who was on the 1999 championship squad, turns 40 later this month.

REACAPPING TUESDAY: In addition to the Americans’ victory over Nigeria, Australia and Sweden played to a 1-all draw, securing the Matildas their spot in the next round. In Group C, Cameroon defeated Switzerland 2-1 and Ecuador showed surprising resiliency but fell to defending champions Japan 1-0. Ecuador was eliminated.

UP NEXT: Group E wraps up with a match between South Korea and Spain in Ottawa, followed by Costa Rica against Brazil in Moncton. In Group F, France plays Mexico in Ottawa while England faces Colombia in Montreal.

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