NEW YORK — The U.S. soccer community had nearly three years to put together the 1999 Women's World Cup, and it was a rousing success.

It has 3 1/2 months to organize this one, and anyone expecting a repeat of the '99 extravaganza might be disappointed.

Still, bringing the tournament to the United States after FIFA moved it from China because of the SARS virus was about the only way to save the event. Sweden, the other bidder, admittedly does not have the infrastructure or the venues to satisfy FIFA's needs.

But World Cup '03 almost certainly won't reach the phenomenal heights of four years ago, when the United States pulled off a neat hat trick:

Winning the title for the second time, beating China in a penalty-kick shootout;

Selling out U.S. games in NFL-size stadiums as women's soccer was on the front pages of newspapers for nearly a month;

Creating so many stars it spawned the first women's professional soccer league in this country, the WUSA.

This year, the United States might very well win again. It certainly will be favored over Norway, Germany, China and Brazil. But to expect 50,000-plus crowds — or to even schedule many games in stadiums that big — is unlikely given the competition in late September through mid-October.

Getting the sport in the headlines against the NFL, college football and the baseball pennant races is a formidable challenge.

"Things must come together really quickly," said Tony DiCicco, coach of the 1999 champions and now the WUSA commissioner. "I know comparisons will be made, they have to be realistic. Ticket sales will be much more of a challenge this time."

Among the most significant matters U.S. Soccer must accomplish are arranging for venues worthy of a World Cup; scheduling 16 doubleheaders without overburdening the teams with too much travel; and setting up television coverage, perhaps the toughest obstacle.

And organizers must do it on a budget of between $8 million and $14 million, with no guarantees from FIFA that it will cover any shortfalls. While the 1999 tournament was played in such places as Soldier Field, FedEx Field, Giants Stadium, Stanford Stadium and the Rose Bowl, this one could wind up with more games in smaller, soccer-first venues like Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, and Home Depot Stadium in Carson, Calif.

"We're looking at a scenario of four to seven stadiums with half of those able to seat over 50,000," U.S. Soccer secretary general Dan Flynn said.

If the tournament is played "coast to coast," as U.S. Soccer president Bob Contiguglia promised, organizers must be fair to the participants and not require lengthy trips between games. Four years ago, with a schedule designed well in advance, the Americans played in New Jersey, Chicago, Foxboro, Mass.; Landover, Md.; Palo Alto, Calif.; and Pasadena, Calif.

But China went from California, to Oregon and New Jersey, back to California, to Massachusetts and back to the Rose Bowl.