The challenge awaiting the U.S. women's soccer team tonight at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium is in the form of talented and composed German players. The test awaiting Women's World Cup and stadium officials may be more imposing.
With several thousand of the estimated 50,000 tickets to be distributed at stadium will-call windows and most fans planning to battle Beltway traffic to make the 7 p.m. kickoff, organizers are bracing for a possibly messy pregame show.
"We're expecting very, very large will-call demand," venue director Heather Quinn said. "That's the biggest issue. We hope we'll have it under control."
Blame it on the U.S. team. Its popularity prompted tournament officials on Tuesday to open the stadium's upper deck, which had been roped off because of an anticipated smaller crowd.
With an additional 14,000 tickets suddenly available, most are being purchased over the phone for pickup at the stadium. Thus, the stadium plans to devote 14 of its 22 ticket windows to will-call, all of which will be at Gate A.
Fans are being advised to get their tickets at the stadium box office during the day or plan on arriving at least an hour before the opening game of the quarterfinal doubleheader.
Capacity will be a little more than 55,000 at the 80,116-seat stadium. About 20 of the 54 sections in the upper deck are closed because of construction to replace safety railings with plexiglass. By late afternoon yesterday, about 5,000 tickets remained.
Despite the starting time, Maryland state police said they do not anticipate major traffic disruptions and have assigned five troopers to direct traffic, as opposed to the contingent of 12 officers that usually works Washington Redskins games.
However, Quinn said about 90 percent of the fans coming tonight never have been to the two-year-old stadium and may need more time to negotiate local exits and roads.
As organizers try to make sure fans get into the stadium on time, the U.S. team wants to stay on schedule for a world title. The Americans, who played in front of about 194,000 spectators in their undefeated three-game first round, face a German team that finished second in the 1995 Women's World Cup and is considered one of the top five teams this year.
"In my mind, this is the equivalent of a final," U.S. Coach Tony DiCicco said. "In a different bracket organization, the U.S. and Germany are both good enough to play in the final."
While the Americans have had few bad moments during this tournament, the Germans have not been particularly impressive. They struggled in an opening 1-1 tie with Italy and gave up a last-second goal during a 3-3 tie with Brazil Sunday at Cooke Stadium.
"The best game we played was the second half vs. Brazil," Germany Coach Tina Theune-Meyer said. "After the game, we had some quiet minutes, but it didn't last very long. The team is very positive and has good character."
Germany's disciplined style could frustrate the United States, which thrives in wide-open play with a dynamic attack. Forwards Mia Hamm and Tiffeny Milbrett will try to break down the German defense with their speed and craftiness.
The third starting forward probably will be Cindy Parlow, who started the first two games. But DiCicco has not ruled out starting Shannon MacMillan, who had a goal and two assists in the first-round finale against North Korea Sunday. McMillan brings quickness and creativity, while the 5-foot-11 Parlow is an ideal target player who is effective in the air.
Another option for DiCicco is to start Parlow at forward and MacMillan on the wing in midfield, and drop defender Kate Sobrero.
Germany and the United States have met in the Women's World Cup once before -- a 1991 semifinal won by the Americans, 5-2, en route to the championship.
"Everybody is very confident," Milbrett said. "You could just tell by our touches on the ball during practice . . . To me, it says everyone's brain is turned on and everybody's body is feeling good."
In tonight's second game, the Brazilians will try to maintain their attacking efficiency against a dangerous Nigerian squad. Brazil has scored 12 goals in the tournament, six by gifted playmaker Sissi, and encountered few defensive obstacles in the first round.
Brazil Coach Wilson Oliveira Rica is stressing defense. Despite the teams' offensive styles, he said, "I don't think it will be a high-scoring game because both teams have to worry about not being scored upon."
Staff writers Craig Whitlock and Jon DeNunzio and special correspondent Will Kuhns contributed to this report.
CAPTION: U.S.'s Mia Hamm and teammates have generated box-office interest: 14,000 tickets have been added for tonight's doubleheader at Cooke Stadium.