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Remember When?

A year ago at the Olympics, the U.S. Women's Soccer Team won a gold medal.

Two years ago, on exceptionally short notice, the U.S. hosted a successful Women's World Cup...especially successful for the German team, which won it.

For the three summers previous to that tournament, the W.U.S.A., now defunct or just resting, depending on the level of your credulity, delighted a fan base consisting, it turned out, of a disproportionate number of cheering children and their delighted parents, and fatally lacking in corporate partners.

In this summer during which the M.L.S. regular season is joined by World Cup qualifiers, Gold Cup matches, and visits by Real Madrid, Manchester United, A.C. Milan, and Fulham, A.C., among other worthies, the calendar for the women's team is limited to friendly matches like the one on Sunday in Portland, Oregon, against Ukraine.

Which is not to say the women's team has not been generating news. Late last month, Coach Greg Ryan cut Brandi Chastain, who won the 1999 World Cup Final with her penalty kick. Ryan welcomed back Tiffany Milbrett, who had cut herself from the squad nearly two years earlier because she felt then-head coach April Heinrichs had taken the fun and spontaneity from her game. Against Canada earlier this summer, Milbrett appeared in her 200th game for the national team. Because she nearly always scores in Portland, it's likely that on Sunday she will pot her 100th goal.

Before the U.S. team gathered for training and summer friendlies, Milbrett had been playing in Sweden, as had veteran Kate Markgraf and super veteran Kristine Lilly. The sad aspect of that circumstance is that there is no longer a pro league to employ them — and the rest of the world's best players — in this country. The upside of the story is that Lilly, who will play in her 297th game for the U.S. team on Sunday, has reported that playing in Sweden was delightful. There is no reason to doubt her, and nobody who has seen the national team perform or who followed the W.U.S.A. through its three seasons will be surprised that these veterans, unlike Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy, have elected to continue playing despite the absense of a U.S. pro league and the fact that the next World Cup, which will be held in China, is still two years away.

Most of us won't see the games, these friendlies, this summer, but it's encouraging to know that the joy is still in them.

This program aired on July 8, 2005. The audio for this program is not available.

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