It will be a homecoming of sorts for Chris McKendry on Thursday at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium when she provides sideline reports for two quarterfinals of the Women's World Cup on ESPN and ESPN2.

McKendry was a reporter, anchor and "Redskin Magazine" co-host at WJLA from 1994 to 1996 and a producer for Fox News Service here in 1992-93.

Maybe even more significantly, her assignment following the U.S. team for broadcasts on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 and as a contributor to ESPN's "SportsCenter" provides a chance for McKendry to return to the game of her Philadelphia childhood.

"I always loved soccer. It brings back great memories for me," said the 31-year-old sportscaster, who's also covering games Sunday night on ESPN2. "Saturdays in the fall, my mother, brothers and I were always packing up to go off to the field, where all of us would have a game."

Two of McKendry's three brothers continued to play through college, but McKendry was forced to abandon the game after breaking a leg as a high school junior.

"It was a Memorial Day weekend tournament," she recalled. "I beat this girl to the ball and she just kicked in frustration after the play and clipped me from behind."

Such background about U.S. team members, and injury reports, will be the focus of much of McKendry's reporting. It promises to be a mix of the Olympic-type "Up Close and Personal" profile -- making viewers care about previously unknown athletes -- and the chock-full-of statistics coverage that ESPN sports junkies expect.

"My job as the eyes and ears of the tournament is to make sure the stories get told," said McKendry, who joined ESPN just one month after receiving a regional sports Emmy for best sports segment for her illustration of how to watch football.

Her enthusiasm for the project is matched only by her nationalistic bias toward the home team -- "we want this team to go all the way" -- in the 32-match tournament that concludes July 10.

McKendry said she began angling a year ago to cover this event: "A lot of people thought I was crazy. Why would I give up anchoring [the Saturday] `SportsCenter' for something we don't even know what the ratings are going to be? For me, it was straight from the heart. So that when soccer took off, I can say I was there and I saw it.

"And it's fun to expand beyond the desk. Nothing compares to being in the stadium when it goes wild."