Of the many compelling characteristics of the U.S. national women's soccer team - brains, skill, speed, strength, charisma, humor, tenacity - one particular trait has always ultimately defined them.
"We want to win. We have a total addiction to winning," said April Heinrichs, a former player and current head coach.
It helps to boil things down to the essential element now that the 2003 Women's World Cup is about to begin.
The 32-game, 16-team tournament will kick off in Philadelphia today. It will end Oct. 12 with the final at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. What happens in between will largely depend on whether the American women and their global counterparts can once again stir emotions and light imaginations the way they did four years ago.
In 1999, when the United States beat China in a shootout in front of 90,000 screaming fans at the Rose Bowl and 40 million more on television, it set off a mini-sporting revolution.
Those were record numbers for a women's sporting event, something corporate sponsors noticed and champions of women's athletics heralded. Women's soccer was arriving right on time - or so it seemed.
It helps to recharge those mental images of Mia Hamm, soccer's all-time leading scorer in international competition, slashing toward the goal, or U.S. goalkeeper Brianna Scurry diving to make big stops.
Add to that picture some Technicolor in the form of the dancing Brazilians or technically proficient Chinese or the wildly talented Germans and you get a World Cup tournament that brings to view women's soccer at its best.
U.S. defender Brandi Chastain said she would like to see the same fevered pitch surrounding this World Cup, "and I want the same result for our team, only this time I could do without the overtime."
But this time around, the 2003 Women's World Cup finds women's soccer not only in overtime, but also possibly on borrowed time. The euphoria, the sense of awe and of new possibilities about which organizers gushed in 1999 has given way to a more sober landscape.
The question is whether the women's game, at its most elite level, has crested in terms of fan interest. This is the climate - following on the raging wind of Hurricane Isabel - in which this tournament will be staged, not that veteran U.S. players will allow anything to sink their confidence.
"We don't have hurricanes in California, just earthquakes, so I'm looking forward to it. With the winds, maybe I'll be fast, finally," midfielder Julie Foudy said with a laugh.
Foudy, with two World Cup wins and an Olympic gold and silver medal, has been around long enough to know how far her sport has come. She can joke, though heartache, inconvenience, scrambling and a few tears have come in the months and weeks leading up to this World Cup.
Four months ago, the outbreak of SARS throughout Asia forced soccer's world governing body, FIFA, to move the tournament from China to the United States. China had been planning for years, spending millions to hold this international event.
The hasty relocation to the United States means this minor sport must now compete in prime sporting season against all of sports' big boys. College football and the NFL are in full throttle. Major League Baseball will end its regular season and will start its postseason.
Worse, the immediate suspension of the Women's United Soccer Association - the eight-team pro league spawned by the success of the 1999 World Cup - was just announced Monday.
The league lasted three seasons, providing women's soccer's best players a place to play, train, improve and, just as important, a chance to bring their sport and role models to a different demographic.
There is vague talk about attempts to revive the league in 2005, with women's soccer enthusiasts calling for corporations to just do it: Open the checkbook and fund a league that fans and players say serves as a beacon for an alternative to big-time sports.
"We aren't on drugs," Chastain said. "We aren't getting arrested. We are athletes you can look up to in the pro sector. We are the players so that young girls don't have to look up to men the way we did. They see us and know that their dreams are attainable."
The World Cup, if it can break through the din of college and pro football and major league baseball, is another chance to promote an alternative.
"We all feel that the Women's World Cup will give it its needed injection," Heinrichs said. "Hopefully it will also help identify a couple more investors to buy a couple more teams, and then we would all say that the league's future isn't in doubt. That would really be a wonderful thing."
U.S. Soccer has announced that, so far, about half of the tournament's total available number of tickets has been sold. Close to 300,000 tickets have been purchased since going on sale July 19.
Unlike the '99 Cup, which opened at Giants Stadium in New Jersey and culminated at the Rose Bowl, this Cup will be played at smaller venues.