The United States Women's Soccer Team is battling Japan in the World Cup Championship today in Frankfurt, Germany, and soccer fever is sizzling stateside like it never has before.
The U.S. women's soccer team, now the top-ranked team in the world, kicked its way past Brazil and France in thrilling quarter and semifinal games and is now just one game away from winning its third World Cup title.
"I think the success of the USA women's national team has always been top notch, but the manner in which they have done it during this World Cup has absolutely captivated the entire nation," said Alecko Eskandarian, a former player with the L.A. Galaxy of Major League Soccer.
He said the way the United States came back to defeat Brazil in the quarterfinals alone should change the way Americans think about soccer.
"Their dramatic victory over Brazil was one of the most exciting finishes to a match I had seen in quite some time, regardless of gender," he said. "Much like the heroic goal by Landon Donovan in the World Cup last year on the men's side, Americans are finally starting to recognize the excitement of soccer rather than dismissing it as boring or low-scoring."
Soccer has long been popular in the United States as a youth sport, but that popularity hasn't always translated to interest in the sport on an adult level. Major League Soccer has teams in 18 cities, but in most the game plays second fiddle to other pro sports.
In the Northwest, however, the rivalry between the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders FC has created soccer excitement.
"Slowly but surely, more and more people in the United States are becoming soccer fans, and dramatic victories on the world's biggest stage will only help that cause," Eskandarian said.
In that quarterfinal match, the U.S. women overcame a disputed call that not only gave Brazil a goal, but put them at a player disadvantage for much of the second half.
"I think the public really enjoys drama, and this year's Women's World Cup has provided us with plenty of drama in addition to a great display of soccer," Eskandarian said. "American fans love winners and they love some drama and excitement, this year's U.S. women's national team has provided a combination of all of that."
He said that even if the U.S. women fail to win their final today against Japan, they should have secured their place in the hearts of the country.
"They will come back home as darlings of the media," Eskandarian said. "Hopefully the impact of their performance continues to have a lasting effect on the growth of soccer in this country."
For many young soccer players around the country, the goalkeeper Hope Solo, forward Abby Wambach, midfielder Megan Rapinoe, team captain Christie Rampone and the rest have made their mark.
"To me they've always been my favorite, and they're the best team to me even if they win or lose," Nicole Edwards, a 12-year-old camper at Chicago Storm Soccer Camp in Algonquin, Ill., told ABC station WLS-TV in Chicago.
"It's just tremendous to see them on that world stage and bringing glory to themselves and to the country," said Bill Irwin of Megan Rapinoe and Stephanie Cox, whom he coached at University of Portland.
From Germany, defender Amy LePeilbet's father encouraged Chicago soccer fans to cheer.
"Cheer so loud that they can hear it from Germany," he said.
The U.S. World Cup fever has gone even intergalactic: Atlantis astronaut Sandy Magnus, a soccer fanatic who has been following the American women's team, requested to receive score updates in space for the important games.