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Sunday's World Cup Is U.S. Women's Chance For Payback


Four years ago, penalty kicks sunk America's chance at taking home the World Cup. Tonight, the U.S. women's national soccer team has a chance to avenge its defeat when it plays Japan again; this time in Vancouver, British Columbia. The U.S. hasn't won the World Cup since 1999. NPR's Shereen Marisol Meraji is in Vancouver and gets us ready for the final game.

SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, BYLINE: You got to have your gear.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I can help the next person over here.

MERAJI: More than 100 fans lined up in front of the stadium on Saturday morning to buy World Cup 2015 swag.

RYAN PETERSON: I like the white one, Mom.

MERAJI: Most of them already decked out in red, white and blue like...

RYAN: Ryan Peterson.



MERAJI: Fifteen-year-old Ryan and 20-year-old McCall are negotiating shirt purchases with their mom, Steph. They came from Dallas, Texas, to watch the game. Ryan wasn't even born the last time the U.S. women won the World Cup. But McCall says it's one of her earliest memories.

PETERSON: I remember having posters of Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain and just all those stars. I think it was really like a breakthrough for women's soccer.

MERAJI: Fifty-four-year-old Erin Havrilesky is in Vancouver with a dozen women she plays pickup soccer with in Southern California. She brought her 19-year-old, Tara, along, too, who played all through high school.

TARA HAVRILESKY: And then I kind of stopped playing but I play with old ladies sometimes.

MERAJI: (Laughter).


MERAJI: Her mom's psyched to be here because she didn't go to that '99 final back home.

E. HAVRILESKY: I was in my bedroom and not sitting on the bed - standing and screaming, jumping up and down. It was a fantastic game.

MERAJI: They're hoping for another fantastic win tonight and so is this woman.

JULIE FOUDY: Hi, I'm Julie Foudy.

MERAJI: Foudy was on the U.S. national team that won the '91 and 1999 World Cups.

FOUDY: Like, I'm done with the '99ers. That narrative is old. Let's talk about the '15ers.

MERAJI: I caught her in Vancouver hanging out by the pool and taking a quick break from her ESPN analyst gig.

FOUDY: You know, I got my kids, who are in the pool right now; they're so excited. They got their Rapinoe jerseys, their Wambach jerseys. They're huge fans of this group. And so to see it now through your kids' eyes, it's like, oh, talk about coming full circle. It's so neat to see.

MERAJI: Julie Foudy hopes the U.S. win will spark another conversation about equality for female soccer players. She says '99 helped them negotiate more financial support and the 2015 winners could take that fight worldwide. She wants to see a Brazil or Cameroon make it to the final one day. Until then, it's a rematch from four years ago - Japan versus the USA. So it's not 1999 consuming veteran forward Abby Wambach's thoughts, it's that 2011 loss to Japan.


ABBY WAMBACH: I can't be happier for this team to be in another final, but we still have to win. We haven't won anything yet, and we know what that feels like from four years ago, and it's not a good feeling.

MERAJI: In a press conference before the game, Wambach was passionate about how much this win means to her. She's the world's all-time leading goal scorer, has won two Olympic gold medals, but no World Cup title. This will be the last World Cup of her career, and she wants to end the tournament a champion - a 2015-er. Shereen Marisol Meraji, NPR News, Vancouver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.