Before this week, the most indelible image of women's soccer in this country was Brandi Chastain pulling off her jersey after defeating China in the 1999 Women's World Cup. But Heather O'Reilly's goal and subsequent celebration against Colombia in last Saturday's World Cup match have a good shot at taking over that position.
O'Reilly took advantage of a sloppy touch by Colombia in their own end and blasted the ball home from well outside the penalty area to put the U.S. on the board early in a match they would go on to win, 3-0. O'Reilly and her teammates then lined up and saluted the hundreds of U.S. military members and their families in attendance. It was a rare communal celebration in a sport that tends to glorify individuals over teams.
Despite entering the tournament as the top-ranked team in the world, the current version of the U.S. women's national team is decidedly off the radar of even hard-core soccer fans. The men's Cup saw an explosion of interest from traditionally soccer-ignorant Americans last summer, but the women's tournament, entering the quarterfinals this weekend, is barely a rumor.
There are too many fun storylines to ignore this event. The host squad, Germany, has won the last two Cups and is under a lot of pressure to take a third. Brazil has never won a Cup, despite boasting the best women's player of all time in Marta, who has scored 78 goals in 71 international matches. And the Americans, without a charismatic superstar like Chastain or Mia Hamm to attract attention, are very much in the hunt.