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World Cup Champs on Whirlwind Tour

July 13, 1999

NEW YORK (AP) _ In training, the U.S. women’s soccer team loaded up on pasta and other foods packed with carbohydrates. On the players’ first night in New York, some celebrated their World Cup victory over China by going out for Chinese food _ and then dancing at the China Club.

The choices of cuisine and nightlife were just coincidence, backup goalkeeper Saskia Webber insisted with a slight grin.

``No, it has nothing to do with it,″ she said Monday night as she and about seven teammates entered the China Grill restaurant in midtown Manhattan to a standing ovation from patrons.

One of the diners was Jim Hook, a youth soccer referee from Memphis. ``This is a tremendous thrill,″ he gushed. ``All my kids love them.″

Another diner, attorney Lisa Babiskin, 27, also was thrilled for the players.

``They should absolutely go out and celebrate their accomplishment,″ she said.

The players hoisted champagne toasts after a dizzying tour of New York for appearances on network shows from ``Good Morning America″ and ``Today″ to CNN and Fox News Channel.

While some of the players headed home after the grueling three-week World Cup tournament, others stayed in New York for a rally set for today.

On Wednesday, some players will participate in the Ladies Professional Golf Association JAL Big Apple Classic Pro-Am in suburban New Rochelle, while others will attend the WNBA All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden that night.

``We’re sharing it with New York City because big things happen here,″ said Brandi Chastain, standing amid midtown skyscrapers and sharing the sidewalk with the bustling suit-and-tie crowd.

It was her game-winning penalty kick Saturday at the Rose Bowl that set off a whirlwind of activity. The players were welcomed at Disneyland on Sunday, then flew overnight, landing at Newark Airport at 4:30 a.m. and piling on a bus to Manhattan.

Mia Hamm also was glad to be celebrating in New York.

``It’s fun,″ she said. ``I love New York. There’s so many things to do and so many things to see.″

A lunchtime crowd gawked at the women in matching lavender shirts. Then the realization hit the onlookers: These were those soccer players.

If there were any doubt, the players locked arms and began singing ``We are the Champions!″

``It’s all worth it,″ said Chastain, who had not slept since early Sunday. ``We’re promoting women’s soccer.″

Chastain was on the 1991 U.S. World Cup championship team and remembered one solitary media representative greeting the team when it returned to the United States that year.

``There were 2,000 media credentialed this year,″ she said. ``More people are paying attention to women’s soccer, and we feel very proud of that.″

The media push was on full blast. Full-page ads from major companies like Nike, Chevrolet and Budweiser saluted the victory in newspapers. HarperCollins trumpeted a new book by star player Mia Hamm.

Chastain thinks she and her teammates proved a crucial point.

``Ninety thousand in the Rose Bowl and record television ratings gives validity to what we’ve been saying all along,″ she said. ``There is a place for this team in pro sports.″

After dinner Monday, around 11 p.m., eight of the players headed to The China Club.

Webber, the backup goalie, said her brother suggested the club as a great spot for some Monday night dancing.

Club owner Michael Barrett welcomed the champions.

``First the China Grill, then The China Club, and they beat China,″ he said. ``There you go.″

Chastain said she and the other players worked hard to win the World Cup and needed a relaxing night of boogying to disco tunes.

``Tonight we just want to forget about being soccer players and listen to the music,″ she said from the club about 12:30 this morning.

The club’s disc jockey congratulated the players, who bumped hips with each other and friends on the dance floor while other clubgoers applauded.

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