Chastain, Brandi

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Brandi Chastain


American soccer player

Brandi Chastain became one of the most recognizable figures in American sports when she scored the winning goal at the Women's World Cup soccer tournament final against China on July 10, 1999. In the excitement following her game-winning kick, Chastain whipped off her jersey, exposing her sports bra (which functions as a bra, but looks more like a suit top). The image of Chastain kneeling on the field shirtless, fists raised in victory, graced the covers of Sports Illustrated, Time, and Newsweek The game provided women's soccer in the United States a much-needed boost, drawing a record 40 million viewers.

Chastain, who grew up in San Jose, California, was inspired by George Best, the European Player of the Year who led Manchester United of England to the 1968 European Cup championship. Best ended his career in Chastain's hometown with the San Jose Earthquakes of the North American Soccer League.

Chastain led Archbishop Mitty High School to three consecutive state championships, then was Soccer American Freshman of the Year at the University of California, Berkeley. She had to sit out the next two seasons,

however, after undergoing surgery to reconstruct ligaments in both knees.

Transferring to Santa Clara University in 1989, Chastain returned to soccer and was named First-Team NSCAA All-Far West. The following year, she made First-Team NSCAA All-American. She graduated from Santa Clara with a degree in television and communications.

Chastain made her professional debut on the U.S. national team in 1988, in a game against Japan. She scored her first international goal in April, 1991, against Mexico, scoring five in that game, and played for the 1991 World Cup champion, back when many fans were unaware such a tournament existed. Chastain played professional soccer in Japan for Skiroki Serena in 1993, and was named the team's most valuable player. Also that year, she was the only non-Japanese ranked among that league's top 11 players.

Cut from the 1995 World Cup team because her coach felt she wasn't in good enough shape, Chastain trained hard and switched positions, from striker to defender. She helped the U.S. women's Olympic team win the gold medal in Atlanta in 1996.

Rose Bowl High Drama

Though Chastain was a hero at the end of the 1999 World Cup, she was a central figure in the quarterfinals of that tournament, against Germany. Chastain scored an "own goal," accidentally into her own net, early in the first half. Later that day, Chastain suffered a mild ankle sprain. But she redeemed herself, scoring off a corner kick in the 49th minute to tie the game, and the U.S. rallied to a 3-2 win. Brazil fell 2-0 in the semifinals.

The unforgettable final was at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California on July 10, 1999. The U.S. and China went scoreless into extra time. The game came down to a series of five penalty kicks; the team that scored the most would win. Chastain was tapped for the final attempt with the shootout tied 4-4American goalkeeper Briana Scurry had stopped Liu Ying on China's third try while all four U.S. shooters had scored.

Unlike some players who dislike the intense pressure of penalty kicks, Chastain relished the opportunity. Chastain, never been one to avoid the spotlight; had appeared in the German magazine Gear, in a photo series before the tournament, with nothing on but her soccer cleats and a "strategically-placed" soccer ball. She had also been a guest on David Letterman's television talk show.

U.S. coach Tony DiCicco had instructed Chastain to train for penalty kicks with her left foot instead of her dominant right so goalies would be less able to predict where the ball would go. Goalkeepers often merely guess in defending penalty kicks; the shooter, in close range and with a yawning net, enjoys a pronounced advantage. After the briefest of pauses to line up her shot, Chastain used her left foot to slam the ball past China's Gao Hong.

"I didn't hear any noise. I didn't get caught up looking at Gao Hong," Chastain said. "I just put it home."


1968Born July 21 in San Jose, California
1986Attends University of California, Berkeley
1987-88Misses two college seasons after having anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction surgery on both knees; transfers to Santa Clara University
1988Makes playing debut on U.S. national women's soccer team, against Japan
1990Graduates from Santa Clara University
1991Plays on World Cup-winning U.S. women's soccer team
1995Fails to make U.S. World Cup team
1996Plays on the gold-medal-winning U.S. women's soccer team at the Olympics
2000Plays on the silver-medal-winning U.S. Olympic team
2001Joins the San Jose CyberRays of the new Women's United Soccer Association; CyberRays win inaugural WUSA title

Both Chastain's photo spread in Gear and the famous doffing of her shirt raised questions about the appropriateness of such behavior. She brushed off these concerns, saying in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2000, "I don't understand what's wrong with attractive, beautiful things. I don't think about sex when I see a beautifully toned athlete. I think of all the hard work they put into getting that way. I can appreciate what that's all about."

Still, others questioned just how spontaneous was her celebration. Chastain and nine teammates were wearing Nike's Inner Actives sports bra earmarked for public sale. "After the game, some newspaper and television types wondered if Chastain's shirt-stripping had been orchestrated, in an effort to generate some Nike awareness," Jim Pedley wrote in the Kansas City Star. A Nike sports-woman denied the company had scripted Chastain's celebration, but also said Nike "will certainly capitalize on it."

In 1999, there was no U.S. women's soccer league. That changed in 2001 with the launch of the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA). Chastain immediately joined the new league as a member of the San Jose CyberRays, who won the inaugural championship. In 2002, the WUSA honored its one millionth fan, an achievement that surprised even Chastain.

Chastain is also an assistant coach for the women's soccer team at her alma mater, Santa Clara University. Her husband, Jerry Smith, is the head coach.

She also competed in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. She scored one goal in five games as the U.S. earned a silver medal, falling 3-2 in overtime to Norway for the gold.

Awards and Accomplishments

1986Earns Soccer America Freshman of the Year Honors
1989Named First-Team NSCAA All-Far West
1990Named First-Team NSCAA All-American
1991Scores first five international goals in same game, against Mexico
1991Plays on World Cup-winning U.S. women's soccer team
1996Plays on the gold-medal-winning U.S. women's soccer team at the Olympics
1998Plays on first ever U.S. gold-medal-winning team at the Goodwill Games
1999Scores winning goal against China in the 1999 Women's World Cup final.
1999Named to the 1999 Women's World Cup All-Star Team
1999Named one of People magazine's Most Intriguing People of 1999
1999Named one of Street & Smith's Most Powerful People in Sports for 1999
2000Plays on silver-medal-winning U.S. Olympic team

It Went Down to the Wire

After 120 minutes, including two overtime periods, victory lay at the feet of 30-year-old Brandi Chastain.

The United States and China were locked in a scoreless tie. U.S. goal-keeper Briana Scurry had made a diving, fingertip save deflecting a Chinese shot. The game had come down to a single penalty kick. Chastain approached the ball and barely hesitated before drilling her shot perfectly into the upper right corner of the net.

As frenzied fans roared, she whipped off her shirt and waved it at the crowd before being buried in celebration by her teammates.

Source: Starr, Mark, Martha Brant and Sam Register. Newsweek, July 19, 1999.

Chastain's Impact

The World Cup victory propelled women's soccer into the national spotlight at a time when Chastain and her teammates were working hard to bring the sport greater recognition. "For those of us who were involved with it, it's a wonderful thing, considering how we've been clamoring for soccer to be in the public eye for so long," she told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2002. "And it's special to have individuals who normally are distinguished by men's sports events think of a women's soccer match that way." The win also helped convince investors that a pro women's soccer league would sell in the United States.



Brant, Martha, Sam Register, and Mark Starr. "It Went Down to the Wire." Newsweek (July 19, 1999): 46.

Chapin, Dwight. "Chastain's Winning Moment Takes on Life of Its Own." San Francisco Chronicle (July 7, 2002): B10.

Parker, Wendy. "The Liberation of Brandi Chastain." Atlanta Journal and Constitution (September 14, 2000): 1F.

Wahl, Grant. " Out of this World: A Last-Second Hunch and a Clutch Left Foot Lifted the U.S. to Victory Over China." Sports Illustrated (July 19, 1999).


"10 Burning Questions for Brandi Chastain." (February 8, 2003).

"Soccer Profile: Brandi Chastain." (January 15, 2003).

Pedley, Jim. "How We Did It: Making the call on Cup Photo Play." Dallas Morning News: Associated Press Sports Editors. (February 8, 2003).

Sketch by Michael Belfiore