by Mike Moffett
Weirs Times Columnist
As this is written, the USA women’s soccer national team awaits its June 22 match with Colombia in the World Cup “knock-out” round of 16. Canada is hosting the tournament—accurately billed as the greatest women’s sports competition of all time. Suddenly, mainstream American sports fans are getting to know Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan and company.
Unlike their male counterparts, the USA women have claimed ultimate soccer glory, with several Olympic Gold Medal and World Cup triumphs. The Americans have the team to beat in 2015, although we haven’t won a World Cup Final since 1999.
Ah yes. 1999. Back in that innocent time before the turn of the century, a time of peace and prosperity—before our world forever changed on 9/11/2001.
July 10, 1999, to be specific.
That day 90,000 fans packed the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., to watch the Women’s World Cup Final between the USA and China.
ABC-TV telecast the event, and I’ll always remember hunkering down in front of the television with daughters Katie (11), Kendra (7), and their mom to watch the spectacle.
After a scoreless 90 minutes the game went to overtime. ABC viewership grew throughout the contest, easily surpassing the numbers that watched the NBA Finals between New York and San Antonio. These network ratings would double those of the men’s World Cup Final the previous year between Brazil and France. So as untold millions watched with me and the girls the tension grew and the drama unfolded. Kristine Lilly made a wonderful defensive play for the USA to thwart a sure Chinese goal and the game remained scoreless through the extra sessions, necessitating a shootout—five designated players taking penalty kicks for each team.
China’s Xie Huilin shot first and scored. USA goalkeeper Bianna Scurry had no chance, as a perfectly placed penalty kick is unstoppable. But the USA’s Carla Overbeck came through and evened things at 1-1. Then Qiu Haiyan’s score was matched by Joy Fawcett’s.
Liu Ying was China’s next shooter, but her shot was blocked by Scurry, who probably moved early, but got away with it. Lilly then got a shot past Chinese goalkeeper Gao Hong to give the United States the advantage.
Zhang Ouying came through with a score for China which brought up America’s best, Mia Hamm, to take the 4th kick for the USA. The all-time leading USA women’s soccer scorer converted to put the pressure on Chinese superstar Sun Wen, who easily beat Scurry to make the score 4-4. I wondered how many hundreds of millions of Chinese were watching in Asia.
But the USA still had one more attempt coming. Brandi Chastain could win the World Cup for the USA with a score. Otherwise, there would be more penalty kicks. With perhaps a billion people watching from around the world, Chastain blasted the ball past Gao. The subsequent eruption of American joy and euphoria represented the magic of sport at its best, uniting a nation and elevating awareness and appreciation of women’s sports to unprecedented heights.
The USA soccerwomen would be named “Athletes of the Year.” Endorsement offers would abound. A women’s professional league, the WUSA would be established. The sports world would take a “great leap forward” towards gender equity.
All of this was fabulous, of course. But for me, what was even more fabulous, later on that sunny July day, was seeing Katie and Kendra out in the backyard kicking a soccer ball back and forth. Perhaps inspired by the exploits by Lilly, Chastain, and company, each girl would go on to captain the Concord High School girls soccer team, with each also earning team MVP honors.
If Team USA beat Colombia Monday and is still alive in the tournament, and if you’re someone who has never watched women’s soccer, then check out what’s going on in Canada.
One never knows when there might be sports magic—such as occurred on July 10, 1999.
What American League team finished in last place every year from 1922 through 1930 except for 1924, when it finished a half-game ahead of the cellar-dweller? (Answer follows)
Born Today …
That is to say, sports standouts born on June 25 include NBA great and New York Knick legend Willis Reed (1942) and former Miss America Phyllis George, who also covered the NFL for CBS and married one-time Celtic owner John Y. Brown (1949).
“When my coach said I ran like a girl, I said that if he could run a little faster he could too.”
― Mia Hamm
The hapless Boston Red Sox finished at the bottom of the American League standings all those years.
Michael Moffett is a Professor of Sports Management at Plymouth State University and at NHTI-Concord. He recently co-authored the critically-acclaimed and award-winning “FAHIM SPEAKS: A Warrior-Actor’s Odyssey from Afghanistan to Hollywood and Back” (with the Marines)—which is available through Amazon.com. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.