In 1999, the Mia Hamm-led United States Women’s soccer team forever changed the sport in our country, igniting the passion of sports fans with its inspired play, energy and teamwork in claiming the coveted title with a dramatic victory on penalty kicks over China on home soil.

In the ensuing two decades, Team USA has continued that success on the world stage, winning the World Cup twice and inspiring girls and women to participate and support the exploding sport in the United States.

“The youth of America is inspired by our national team,” said Sean Yengo, head coach of the UW-Eau Claire women’s soccer team. “It all started with the ’99ers (1999 team), and they made it ‘cool to be a soccer player.’ I feel Team USA is still heads-on favorite to win the World Cup, but it will be a battle.”

It is appropriate to call their run a dynasty, akin to the sustained excellence of the New England Patriots in the National Football League and the Golden State Warriors in the National Basketball Association.

This summer, the eighth FIFA Women’s World Cup commences in France and will air on FOX 25/48 in Western Wisconsin and Eastern Minnesota. Team USA is the reigning champion, with more than 750 million fans around the world watching them overwhelm Japan, 5-2, in Canada on July 5, 2015.

Judson Beck, FOX 25/48 general manager, caught the fever in 2015 on a business trip layover in Chicago. A die-hard St. Louis Cardinals fan, Beck was hoping to catch some of the game against the archrival Cubs at renowned Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse by O’ Hare International Airport.

Beck was in for a surprise.

“I went to Harry Caray’s restaurant, primarily because I knew the Cardinals were playing the Cubs, and I wanted to watch a few innings,” he said. “I walked into a packed establishment and I knew they were in the late innings and the Cubs were winning.

“Every TV in the bar—to my shock, they were all tuned to Team USA playing in the Women’s World Cup,” Beck said. “Like everybody else, I was mesmerized. We all chanted USA when they beat China in the quarterfinals. That’s what Women’s World Cup is like, we all come together as a nation.”

There is plenty of reason to rally around this veteran version of the United States team, as 24 teams in six groups begin competing June 7 in group play that culminates in the final match on July 7.

With Team USA a strong favorite along with contenders Japan, France and Brazil, World Cup viewership in the United States is expected to surpass the 26.7 million people that watched in 2015—the most viewed soccer event in U.S. television history (including men’s and women’s soccer).

“At FOX 25/48, we are proud to air the majority of the 2019 Women’s World Cup and bring the excitement of the Team USA matches to our viewers, from Prairie du Chien to Menomonie,” Beck said. “The Championship game, featuring Team USA, will have an audience akin to an NFL game, if history holds true. USA, USA, USA!”

FOX 25 48