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ANALYSIS

Another U.S World Cup Has Limitless Potential

May 06, 2003|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

If, as expected, FIFA decides to stage the fourth Women's World Cup in the United States this fall, the 16-nation tournament will develop in one of two ways.

It will be a small, low-key event, similar to the 1995 tournament in Sweden, or it will be 1999 all over again, when 90,185 packed the Rose Bowl to see the U.S. defeat China on penalty kicks in the final for the world championship.

Ever since FIFA last week removed the tournament from China because of health fears related to the SARS virus, the belief has been that wherever it is held -- Australia, Brazil, Sweden or the U.S. -- it will be a much more marginalized event.

But that is not necessarily the case.

"The sky's the limit on this thing, it could be huge," U.S. Soccer spokesman Jim Moorhouse said Monday. "The story line was the big part of '99. If Kristine Lilly doesn't clear that ball off the end line [in the final], no matter how much organization we had, we're not on the cover of four magazines.

"The key difference here is that when you have [only] four months to prepare, you're locked into being more restrained than you would have been."

Even so, a tournament held in what are considered the most likely venues -- Los Angeles, Washington, Columbus, Ohio, and one other city, perhaps San Jose -- could quickly take on a life of its own.

For the moment, however, envisioning just how successful a U.S. tournament could be is putting the cart before the horse.

As Bob Contiguglia, the president of U.S. Soccer, said Sunday about a premature wire service report, "Whoever said this is a done deal is wrong."

It could be a done deal within the next week or so, however.

On Monday, a three-person U.S. delegation consisting of Dan Flynn, U.S. Soccer's chief executive; Don Garber, commissioner of Major League Soccer, and Jay Berhalter, deputy secretary general of U.S. Soccer, flew to Switzerland.

The trio will meet today with FIFA officials in Zurich to ascertain just what it is that FIFA wants and to outline just what the U.S. can provide.

Everything from the location of the tournament to its originally scheduled dates of Sept. 23-Oct. 11 will be under discussion. Not to mention how much it will all cost and who will pay for it.

The U.S. had 2 1/2 years to prepare for the 1999 tournament and spent a reported $30 million on staging the most successful Women's World Cup, one that made a profit of $2 million.

FIFA also is expected to hear proposals from Australia, and possibly Brazil and Sweden, but their candidacies are considered comparatively weak.

Australia is preoccupied with playing host to the Rugby World Cup from Oct. 10 to Nov. 22. Brazil, meanwhile, has not conducted a major international soccer event since the 1950 World Cup and interest in women's soccer in South America is slight.

Sweden drew a total attendance of only 112, 213 as host in 1995, compared with the U.S. total of 660,159 four years later.

From a pure economic standpoint -- always a FIFA concern -- the U.S. bid probably will be the most attractive. The U.S. can also get up to speed in a hurry.

"The reality is, if whoever is staging it is off and running by the middle of this month, they're in with a shot," Moorhouse said. "But it's going to be tight, no matter what."

Helping the U.S. cause is that U.S. Soccer, MLS and the Women's United Soccer Assn. (WUSA) have plenty of personnel with experience, having put on the 1994 World Cup and the 1999 Women's World Cup.

Add in the weight of the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) and the Hunt Sports Group (HSG) and the U.S. bid looks strong.

Three stadiums are considered almost certain to be involved should the U.S. get the tournament. One is RFK Stadium in Washington, which has spent the better part of a month seeking the final, ever since the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) scare put China in jeopardy as host.

The stadium is home to D.C. United of MLS and the Washington Freedom of WUSA, and its 56,500 capacity is large enough for the final but not too large -- in case the U.S. doesn't reach the championship game. Also, it has no NFL or college football team, and is therefore available.

Lamar Hunt owns the Columbus Crew stadium in Ohio and its capacity of 22,555 and availability make it a logical choice.

Similarly, the Home Depot complex in Carson will be up and running by June and AEG would be delighted to add a world championship tournament to an inaugural season that already includes the MLS All-Star and championship games.

Spartan Stadium in San Jose is home to both the AEG-owned San Jose Earthquakes of MLS and the San Jose CyberRays of WUSA and has only the college football schedule as a possible impediment. Weekday World Cup matches could solve that problem.

One of the many questions that remain to be answered, meanwhile, is where the leading teams will be based. The U.S., Norway, China and Germany loom as the probable seeded teams, with each heading a four-team group.

Chances are, the U.S. could do what it did in 1999 and play its early matches at various venues. That would make ticket sales easier, and with only 140 days before the tournament is supposed to begin, that solution makes the most sense.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

First Footsteps

Past women's World Cups:

*--* Year Site Champion Avg. Attendance Overall Attendance 1999 U.S U.S 38,833 660,159 1995 Sweden Norway 4,316 112,213 1991 China U.S 19,615 510,000

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