'99 Cup it is notNo buzz to this World Cup
By TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Is that all there is?
You wait four years to get to the women's World Cup and when you get there it's like there's no there there?
"No, it just doesn't have the same feeling it did the last time," World Cup veteran Sharolta Nonen said.
"There were amazing crowds and an amazing amount of publicity four years ago. It's just not the same as last time.''
At the same time, despite the lack of atmosphere, the almost non-existent buzz or feel that something is happening here, the Canadian team gagged on its opening game because it knows it is the women's World Cup. There was every evidence against Germany that it ate Canada up.
It's almost a contradiction.
"It looked to me like for some of our players it was a burden and that they did not perform as normal,'' coach Even Pellerud said.
His team thrived on the way to USA 2003, playing before unprecedented crowds in Canada. But a team that drew 29,553 for its going-away-game in Edmonton then came to Columbus where the head-count was 16,340, except that they were counting feet.
It'll be the same tomorrow at 8:30 p.m. when Canada plays Argentina.
It's hard to blame the Americans, who four years ago held the most successful women's World Cup -- women's sports event period. They had more than four years to organize USA '99 compared to fewer than four months after taking this over from China in the wake of the SARS epidemic.
No, you can't blame the Americans. Unless you're the Canadians.
Canada offered to take this group and host it in Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium where the FIFA under-19 women's world championship drew 162,207 for six dates and 47,784 for the final.
The USA and FIFA weren't interested in a co-hosting.
"We could have done a lot better than this'' said Canadian Soccer Association president Andy Sharpe. "We would have sold out.
"We drew the largest crowd in the history of women's soccer for a friendly,'' he said of the Commonwealth Stadium crowd for the Aug. 31 game against Mexico.
"For Germany in the World Cup, for all of the games we would have hosted in the World Cup, we would have sold that stadium out. We'd only have had three months, but we'd have sold out easily in three months in Canada.''
The reason they announced a crowd of 16,340, when half as many were there, is that's the number of packages they sold for the three double headers here. To get the best seats for the USA-North Korea game on Sunday, plenty of fans bought the packages and no-showed for the openers. Many might have been part of the 100,000 crowd which watched Ohio State play Bowling Green a few miles down the road earlier in the day.
Whatever, the point is that USA 2003 isn't going to be anywhere near the same experience as USA '99, here, there or anywhere.
Four years ago they averaged 37,944 overall - 53,643 for four games in Los Angeles, 37,944 per match, 54,187 for four games in New York, 49,668 for four in Chicago with a single game in San Francisco drawing 73,123 and the final in the Rose Bowl drawing a mind-boggling 90,000.
For 20-year-old Christine Sinclair, who thrived off the scene last year in Edmonton, it's important to play for the people back home in Canada, not the people who aren't here this year.
"We're here to play for each other and for Canada,'' she said. "Believe me, it seems like the World Cup out there to the players. We knew coming here that it wasn't going to be like USA '99 and most of us didn't experience USA '99.
"As players, we definitely know it's the World Cup. And I think it'll be everything we'd want it to be when we make it to Portland,'' she said of the quarter-finals.
Canada needs to beat Argentina and Japan in Boston Saturday to take the trip west.
Andrea Neil, who has played in all three of Canada's World Cup appearances, said an organizer almost appoligized to her.
"An organizer told me, 'This is the best we can do.' We understand. This isn't in the summer like the last time,'' she said of the Americans being forced to accept the China dates for the event.
"We're in competition with all the bigger sports,'' she added of this being prime time sports season in the U.S. with baseball heading down the stretch, college football going strong, the NFL three weeks into the season and hockey (the girls attended the Nashville-Columbus pre-season game on Sunday night that drew less fans than they did) starting up.
"Sure, it doesn't have the same buzz. But it's still the World Cup and we know it.''
Too well, suggests Pellerud.