In the past, all I had ever watched when it came to the Women's World Cup soccer tournament was the highlights provided by ESPN.

But over the last few weeks, I caught myself sitting down in front of the TV watching bits of each and every game of the World Cup 2011.

After watching the thrilling U.S. games against Brazil, Sweden and Japan, I would even find myself watching highlights afterwards on ESPN's SportsCenter.

The play of the USA women inspired me to stay interested during this year's World Cup more so than in the past and I wasn't alone.

In fact, the World Cup final between Japan and the United States caught the attention of millions across our nation.

ESPN's television ratings for the final between the U.S. and Japan drew the largest television rating for a tournament game in 12 years and the second-highest in history.

The game, which Japan won 3-1 on penalty kicks after the two teams tied 2-2 in overtime, was seen on ESPN in 8.6 percent of households.

According to Bloomberg, the rating ws the highest since the 1999 tournament, which our home country hosted it in Pasadena, California and was won in a thrilling shootout victory over China. That game aired on ABC and drew a 13.3 rating.

I strongly believe the run by the U.S. women's soccer team throughout the tournament probably drew the interest of many throughout the TIMES NEWS coverage area whether they were soccer enthusiast or not.

I decided to check with those involved in local soccer to see if the hype of this year's Women's World Cup caught their attention as well.

Northern Lehigh girls' soccer coach John Sitaras said he was definitely caught up in the excitement.

"I did find my self glued to the TV with my sons and my daughter during the World Cup games," Sitaras said. "During the final, my son was driving back from Penn State and he kept calling me every 10 minutes to get an update.

"We were all disappointed after losing in the final. I don't think that we spoke about it until the next day. That's how hooked we were on these games."

Palmerton assistant coach Tara Anders offered her opinion on why she thinks people got caught up with the way the U.S. women's soccer team was playing in Germany.

"The U.S. went into this tournament considered an underdog," Anders said. "I believe that when the U.S. beat Brazil that it really caught the attention of our nation. Once the tournament came down to Japan, a nation that has been under such havoc, and the U.S., a team who fought and earned its way into the final, I think that it really became exciting to see who would win."

A new and exciting U.S. team but one that was far less known by the general public might have also helped. While the World Cup in 1999 featured stars like Mia Hamm, Michelle Akers, Brandi Chastain and Brianna Scurry and was a strong favorite, this year's team didn't have the star power and wasn't the tourney favorite.

"The U.S. team has a different look. We're no longer the heavy favorite," Sitaras said. "The rest of the world has caught up, which is great and makes for competitive games. Add the fact that the new faces are getting to be just as familiar now. Abby (Wambach) is replacing Mia, (Megan) Rapinoe is the new Brandi and Hope Solo took the place of Briana Scurry. What changed sometime during this World Cup is that all of a sudden these girls bonded as a group."

While it may have had its affect on me as a sports reporter and on Sitaras and Anders as coaches, there are those who may have been touched by the play of Wambach, Rapinoe and Solo more so than others.

"I am hoping that young girls playing soccer took the time to watch some of the games," Anders said. "These women are positive role models for girls at the elementary school, junior high and high school level. I am hoping that those who did watch, even if they do not play sports, are able to see what a team that sticks together can achieve. For those girls who do play, I am hoping they had a chance to observe how the USA played.

"Watching USA play Japan evoked emotions of excitement, passion, and desire for the game. I can say that watching the game, personally, makes me a better player. I push harder, work faster, and try to be better on and off the field. From the players point of view, I am hoping the girls on Palmertons high school team will take that passion and desire and use it on the field in the up coming season."

According to Sitaras, the talent of U.S. women's team may have already rubbed off a bit on his Bulldogs during this off-season.

"In my opinion this was huge for our girls soccer team," Sitaras said. "Girls even want to play goal now because of Solo. Wambach's heroics inspired a whole generation of girls. And, it wasn't only our team. Japan showed us that we don't need size to succeed.

"The level of play has improved so much. I hope that this type of success continues and inspires young players in this country to work hard and improve their game."