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U.S. Women Survive World Cup's 'Group Of Death'


Time now for sports. And we're talking World Cup this morning because the U.S. women's soccer team not only survived the group stage of the tournament, they finished first in the so-called group of death. The team now moves on to the knockout stage with their first game against Colombia tomorrow. Mike Pesca is the host of Slate's The Gist podcast. He is here to tell us what to look for. Hey, Mike.

MIKE PESCA: Hello. There's always a group of death. I think, at most, it was the...

MARTIN: Why do they have to call it that?

PESCA: It was the group of flesh wound at worst really. They were getting out, and they did get out, and they looked fine.

MARTIN: (Laughter) So they're looking more than fine. Our team's looking pretty strong, right?

PESCA: Yes. The U.S. is looking very good on defense, and that's pretty important because if there ever was a weakness - and they haven't won a World Cup since 1999 and the sports bra and all that. But they've been the best or one of the best teams in the world, and they've certainly won Olympic gold. But defensive, if there was a problem with the team, it was never getting enough scoring. Now, it seems like the problem may be getting enough scoring. Their striker, the woman who scored the most goals in U.S. history, Abby Wambach, has been stymied a bit. But I think another big thing is that Alex Morgan, who is younger and probably at this point a better potential scorer than Abby - Alex has been hurt. She was able to play. She has full fitness now. She's been given the green light to play. She played a full game. And going forward, they'll have that tandem to try to put more balls in the back of the net.

MARTIN: OK. So what about the tournament as a whole because there was a lot of drama going into this thing - all the corruption allegations running FIFA? Has the World Cup been successful overall at this point? Can we say?

PESCA: I think so. By a lot of metrics, it's been doing very well. In person attendance for, especially the Canadians, the American games has been great. Attendance has actually not been good for some other teams, and FIFA is doing a bit to inflate the attendance statistics by selling doubleheaders and counting them as one. But the U.S. game against Nigeria drew tremendous ratings. It was a prime-time game on Fox, not Fox Sports 1 or Fox Sports 12, just Fox, Fox and opposite an NBA any finals game. It had the third most viewers of any women's soccer game ever. And I think if the United States advances, if they beat Colombia, and especially as momentum draws, they could play Germany in the semifinals. Germany is the best women's soccer team in the world, best men's soccer team in the world, too. And if it comes to that, I think they'll be so much excitement for the finals that it could set a ratings record.

MARTIN: What about this turf issue because there was a whole lot of talk about this? The Men's World Cup is played on grass. This tournament is being played all on artificial turf. Abby Wambach was on ESPN blaming the turf for some of her missed goals. Let's listen to that.


ABBY WAMBACH: Playing on turf affects everything, you know, it affects the way the ball rolls, it affects the way the ball bounces, it affects the way you think about whether or not going into a slide. It's kind of a nightmare.

MARTIN: So, wow, kind of a nightmare. Is it affecting other people?

PESCA: It is. Its effecting the whole tournament. Now, if you know anything about turf, you might say wait a minute, Abby was talking about the ball not bouncing correctly. Isn't there a true bounce on artificial turf? And yes there is, but that's a problem for scorers because with a true bounce, it's easier for the goaltenders to judge the ball. Also, when you're landing on a non-forgiving substance, that's bad. And it really is FIFA's fault. It's easy to point the finger at FIFA and often accurate. So let's do it with this turf on a few fronts. One, some of these stadiums they were playing in were regular grass, and they tore it out and put in the turf.


PESCA: Why? To make is more fair so that every team plays on the same service. However, let's point another finger. They have a deal with the turf people. They're making money on the turf. So yeah, that has been a bit of a legitimate blight.

MARTIN: Mike Pesca. His podcast is called The Gist. Thanks so much, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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