Looking for a third Women's World Cup, the U.S. national team takes on Japan in Frankfurt, Germany Sunday afternoon.
Dubbed in some circle's "Team Redemption," the U.S. side, led by striker Abby Wambach and goalie Hope Solo, will look to complete a remarkable run to become the all-time Cup holder, easing past Germany, the tourney favorite, which was defeated by Japan in the quarterfinals.
ESPN, deploying 22 cameras, including a spider cam, will present the match at 2:45 p.m. (ET). Broadband service ESPN3.com and Univision's cable network Galavision, along with ESPN Radio, ESPNRadio.com, ESPN Mobile TV, ussoccer.com's MatchTracker and Twitter @ussoccer, are also in the match mix. The worldwide leader ‘s pre-match telecast begins at 2 p.m., unless its coverage of golf's The Open Championship runs long, in which case it will migrate to ESPN2.
Despite being ranked No. 1 by FIFA, this U.S. team has been cast in an underdog role. Losing for the first time ever to Mexico in CONCACAF qualifying last fall, the team had to endure Italy in a pair of head-to-head matches just to make the World Cup final.
Defeats at the feet of Sweden and England in the run-up to the FIFA event early this year didn't inspire confidence.
The host and two-time defending champion Germany and Brazil, with FIFA's five-time distaff footballer of the year Marta were deemed to be a cut above the rest of the competition.
Perhaps for those reasons, this American side didn't benefit from the celebrity of its 1999 predecessors, the well- publicized "booters with hooters" team that captured the nation's zeitgeist and sold-out stadia across the nation when the tourney was staged here. Neither the U.S. Soccer Federation or ESPN threw their PR machines into overdrive in support of this squad, which sustained its first-ever WWC group stage loss, a 2-1 defeat to Sweden.
Since then, the U.S. has put its best cleats forward. Playing with 10 for some 60 minutes before Wambach's header in the 122nd minute knotted Brazil at 2, the U.S. survived the penalty kicks against the "Samba Queens." Solo provided the key stop against Daiane, who had put the U.S. in front in the second minute with an own goal, and defender Ali Krieger placed the final ball in the side netting to finally lift the veil of awareness that had shrouded this group.
In the semifinals, the U.S. took an early lead only to see France dominate play for much of the first half, before squaring matters after intermission. The U.S. weathered an ensuing siege for another 15 minutes or so, before a Wambach header off a corner kick in the 80th minute and a chip by Alex Morgan a couple of minutes later deciding matters.
The Nielsens have taken notice of these exploits. Despiite a noon kickoff on the East Coast, the July 13 semi scored a 2.2 household rating, 2.57 million households and 3.35 million watchers on average. It ranks as the most-watched FIFA Women'ws World Cup weekday match and fourth most-viewed ever. It was the second from Germany 2011 to jump into the top 5 -- the U.S. quarterfinal win over Brazil stands third with 3.89 million viewers. The other three are from 1999, led by the 11.4 rating and 17.98 million who watched the U.S. defeat China in the final at the Rose Bowl, as Brandi Chastain's jersey-stripping moment entered sports' Pantheon.
Considering the U.S. is 22-0-3 versus Japan all-time, it's hard to imagine Sunday's match approaching that audience level. However, given the growing interest in the U.S. team and Japan's sterling play by FIFA's fourth-ranked team -- its short-passing, possession-style has evoked comparisons to Barcelona -- the 4.9 million who watched the Americans defeat Brazil on the Fourth of July during the 1999 tournament is likely to fall.