The U.S. women's soccer team will open its campaign for this year's World Cup at RFK Stadium in Washington on September 21. The dates and venues for the entire 32-match, 23-day tournament were announced in the nation's capital Monday by football's world governing body, FIFA, and the U.S. Soccer Federation.
This year's Women's World Cup was originally scheduled to be played in China but it was moved because of the SARS epidemic. The quadrennial event will now open three days earlier than originally scheduled in China.
U.S. Soccer president Robert Contiguglia says the first games of the 2003 Women's World Cup will kick off September 20 at a new stadium in Philadelphia and at Columbus Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. There will be a welcome ceremony in Columbus, but he says the official opening ceremonies will be one day later at the U.S. team's opener in Washington.
"The opening ceremony and the first U.S. game will be here [in Washington] at RFK Stadium on September 21. And the final game will be at Home Depot Center on October 12, 2003," said Mr. Contiguglia.
The new Home Depot Center soccer venue is in Carson, California, just south of Los Angeles. Mr. Contiguglia says Washington, D.C. is an historic place for soccer in the United States and the federation is thrilled to have its first game of the tournament under the shadow of the nation's capitol. And he says the event will be special for another reason. "This will be the first World Cup in the United States where every field is at least full size or meets all the FIFA requirements," he says. "So this is going to be special for the athletes."
U.S. women's coach April Heinrichs thinks the large field sizes matter to her team. "The most exciting thing for me is that we are going to be playing on large fields," she says. "It warrants having and will reward attacking style teams. And for all of you that know, the [U.S.] women's national team has prided itself for 15 years, and 17 years technically, for playing attack oriented soccer. And to really take calculated risks and to go forward and develop personality players."
Tony DiCicco guided the U.S. women's national team to the World Cup title in 1999. He now heads the U.S. women's professional soccer league, and says having the World Cup in the United States will again showcase how the sport is flourishing in this country.
"We have a unique opportunity in America, different than any other country in the world. We grow the sport of soccer with both our men and our women," says Mr. DiCicco. "Whether it is the men's national team and [coach] Bruce Arena last summer turning many heads around the world [at the World Cup], or whether it is the women's team or what April [Heinrichs] is doing with their team right now, we do this jointly to grow the sport."
U.S. Soccer president Robert Contiguglia says the venues themselves will show the progress of soccer in the United States. "What will be unique for the final for the first time because it will not be in an American [style] football stadium, is that not only will the spectators be close up and give a great atmosphere for the athletes, but the athletes will play on real turf designed for soccer," he says. "We will also have the TV [viewing] lines being very special so the international broadcasts will be of the highest quality."
After the U.S. opener, RFK Stadium in Washington will also see a pair of games played on September 24 and September 27, featuring action from Groups A, B and C. The tournament quarterfinals will be played as doubleheaders on October 1 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, and on October 2 at PGE Park in Portland, Oregon.
Only the U.S. team's opening-round schedule is set because the 16-nation tournament field has not been completed and the draw has not yet been held.