Soccer: Women's World Cup, 1999

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Soccer: Women's World Cup, 1999

U.S. Women's National Soccer Team (1982–2001). Established by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), in 1982, as the first national women's soccer team to compete internationally; coached by Anson Dorrance until 1994, when Tony DiCicco took over; winner of two World Cups (1991 and 1999); winner of Olympic gold medal (1996); team voted Female Athletes of the Year by AP member newspapers and broadcast outlets (1999); winner of Olympic silver medal (2000).

1999 World Cup roster: (defenders) Lorrie Fair, Christie Pearce, Carla Overbeck (and co-captain), Tiffany Roberts, Joy Fawcett, Brandi Chastain, Sara Whalen, Kate Sobrero; (forwards) Shannon MacMillan, Mia Hamm, Tiffeny Milbrett, Cindy Parlow, Kristine Lilly, Danielle Fotopoulos; (midfielders) Michelle Akers, Julie Foudy (and co-captain), Tisha Venturini; (goalkeepers) Briana Scurry, Tracy Ducar, and Saskia Webber.

Featued players:

Akers, Michelle (1966—). Midfielder. Name variations: Michelle Akers-Stahl. Born on February 6, 1966, in Santa Clara, California; attended the University of South Florida, Orlando; married.

Won (individual) Hermann Trophy (1988); won Team gold medal, World championships (1991 and 1999); won bronze medal, World championships (1995); won gold medal, Olympic Games, in Atlanta, Georgia (1996); named Female Soccer Athlete of the Year (1990 and 1991); was a founding player of the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA); published (with Gregg Lewis) The Game and the Glory: An Autobiography (Zondervan, 2000).

Chastain, Brandi (1968—). Defender. Born Brandi Denise Chastain on July 21, 1968, in San Jose, California; graduated from Santa Clara University; married Jerry Smith (a soccer coach at Santa Clara University); children: stepson Cameron.

Won Team gold medal, World championships (1991 and 1999); won gold medal, Olympic Games (1996); won silver medal, Olympic Games (2000); was a founding member of the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA); signed with the Bay Area CyberRays (2001).

Fawcett, Joy (1968—). Defender. Born Joy Biefeld on February 8, 1968, in Inglewood, California; one of nine children of Terry and Beverly Biefeld; attended the University of California, Berkeley; married Walter Fawcett (a software engineer); children: two daughters, Katelyn Rose (b. May 17, 1994) and Carli (b. May 21, 1997).

Was chosen Female Soccer Athlete of the Year (1988); won Team gold medal, World championships (1991 and 1999); won gold medal, Olympic Games (1996); won silver medal, Olympic Games (2000); was a founding member of the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA); signed with the San Diego Spirit (2001).

Foudy, Julie (1971—). Midfielder and co-captain. Born on January 23, 1971, in Mission Viejo, California; graduated from Stanford University, 1993; married Ian Sawyers.

Won Team gold medal, World championships (1991 and 1999); bronze medal, World championships

(1995); won gold medal, Olympic Games (1996); won silver medal, Olympic Games (2000); was a founding member of the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA); signed with the San Diego Spirit (2001).

Hamm, Mia (1972—). Forward and first scorer in the world—male or female—to achieve 108 goals. Born Mariel Margaret Hamm on March 17, 1972, in Selma, Alabama; one of six children of William Hamm (a pilot in the U.S. Air Force) and Stephanie Hamm (a ballerina); attended Notre Dame High School, Wichita Falls, Texas; graduated from Lake Braddock Secondary School, Burke, Virginia; graduated from the University of North Carolina, 1994; married Christiaan Corey (a Marine Corps pilot), on December 17, 1994 (separated).

Became leading scorer in the world, man or woman, with 108 goals; was a member of the U.S. national team (1987–99); was four-time member of the NCAA women's soccer championship team (1989–93); named ACC tournament MVP (1989 and 1992); named ACC Player of the Year (1990, 1992, and 1993); won two World Cup championships (1991 and 1999); set NCAA single-season scoring record of 59 goals, 33 assists for 92 points (1992); was National Player of the Year (1992–94); received the Mary Garber Award as ACC Female Athlete of the Year (1993 and 1994); named U.S. Soccer Female Athlete of the Year (1993–98); received the Honda Broderick Cup as Most Outstanding Female Athlete in all college sports (1994); was named MVP of the U.S. Cup (1995); won gold medal, Olympic Games (1996); led U.S. national team in scoring with 9 goals, 18 assists for 27 points in 23 games (1996); won silver medal, Olympic Games (2000); was a founding member of the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA); signed with the Washington Freedom (2001).

Lilly, Kristine (1971—). Forward. Born on July 22, 1971, in Wilton, Connecticut; graduated from the University of North Carolina.

Won Team gold medal, World championships (1991 and 1999); won Hermann Trophy (1991); named Female Soccer Athlete of the Year (1993); won bronze medal, World championships (1995); won gold medal, Olympic Games (1996); won silver medal, Olympic Games (2000); was a founding member of the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA); signed with the Boston Breakers (2001).

Overbeck, Carla (1969—). Defender and co-captain. Born Carla Werden on May 9, 1969, in Pasadena, California; attended the University of North Carolina; married Greg Overbeck (a restaurateur); children: one son Jackson (b. August 14, 1997).

Won Team gold medal, World championships (1991 and 1999); won bronze medal, World championships (1995); won gold medal, Olympic Games (1996); won silver medal, Olympic Games (2000); was a founding member of the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA); signed with the Carolina Courage (2001).

Scurry, Briana (1971—). Goalkeeper. Born Briana Collette Scurry on September 7, 1971, in Minneapolis, Minnesota; attended the University of Massachusetts.

Won Team gold medal, World championships (1991 and 1999); won bronze medal, World championships (1995); won gold medal, Olympic Games (1996); won silver medal, Olympic Games (2000); was a founding member of the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA); signed with the Atlanta Beat (2001).

"For three weeks during the summer," noted Barry Wilner in December 1999, "the Women's World Cup was a sporting phenomenon. What was expected to be a nice little soccer tournament turned into The Associated Press Story of the Year, a success beyond even what its participants imagined possible." How had women's soccer in America emerged from obscurity into a national sensation? The success of the sport in the States had a great deal to do with an exceptional team, the members of which captured the public's imagination with their competitive spirit, celebrity potential, and undisputed ability to deliver the goods on the field.

The history of the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team began in 1972—ten years before the team was actually established—with the passage of Title IX, the government mandate requiring school sports programs to treat male and female athletes equally. The resulting expansion of women's athletic programs in high schools and colleges fortuitously coincided with an interest in soccer, a sport already well established in European countries but slow to gain a foothold in the United States. Over the next decade, the schools, as well as numerous suburban youth soccer leagues across the country, produced a bumper crop of outstanding young women players, many of whom went on to play on college teams. By 1982, interest was such that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) began a collegiate national championship women's soccer tournament, and that same year the first U.S. women's team was selected to compete in the international arena. Under head coach Anson Dorrance (also the women's soccer coach at the University of North Carolina), and captained by April Heinrichs , the initial team included such players as Michelle Akers, Mia Hamm, Carin Jennings Gabarra , Kristine Lilly, Julie Foudy, and Joy Fawcett, names known only to soccer insiders at the time. The Americans played their first match, a 1–0 loss to Italy, in August 1985, with little fanfare. "We all had a vision for the future," says Heinrichs, who went on to become the women's coach at the University of Virginia and with the U.S. U-16 team. "I didn't think it would become this great, this dominant, this wonderful, but, boy, looking back, it was wonderful."

The national team played its first World Cup match on November 17, 1991, and subsequently won the tournament in the finals against China. "When we started the team, we never thought there would be a World Cup," remarked midfielder Julie Foudy. "It was always a mystical thing. And now we're holding it." Lauren Gregg , the assistant coach of the national team, regarded the '91 tournament as a showcase of the team's uniquely American style of play: "risk oriented, attacking, playing in a way to make a difference. We were a country that in the eyes of the world shouldn't be winning a World Cup. We upped the ante for the rest of the countries."

But the World Cup victory went virtually unheralded in the United States; some newspapers didn't even note the win. The national team continued to practice and play with little press or recognition until 1994, when the hype surrounding that year's men's World Cup, coupled with the recognition of women's soccer as a medal event in the Olympics, brought the team some well-deserved attention. Magazines began to carry features on some of the players and, lured by the status of the team as an Olympic medal favorite, corporate sponsors began pop-ping up. For the first time, the women were put on salary (hardly comparable to their male counterparts, but a start), and a new training facility in Orlando, Florida, became a priority. With heightened visibility, however, came new challenges. The Olympic decision impacted other countries as well, and they too were giving women's soccer more attention. There were new professional leagues in Sweden, Norway, and Germany, and the competition for the upcoming World Cup promised to be fierce.

Some problems arose within the team's ranks when Coach Dorrance surprised everyone with the announcement that he was stepping down, and team stalwart Michelle Akers, battling Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS), was often unable to play.

Under new head coach Tony DiCicco, however, the year leading up to the World Cup was a surprisingly good one for the team, and they looked strong going into the 1995 tournament. The players progressed to the semifinal match-up against Norway, their arch rivals since the 1991 Cup finals. The Norwegians played a rough physical game, putting the United States on the defensive at the onset. Ten minutes into the competition, Norway made the first goal, then kept the U.S. at bay for the rest of the game. Michelle Akers, who was playing hurt and managed to get off only one shot, remarked of the devastating defeat: "It's like having your guts kicked out of you."

To prepare for the upcoming summer Olympics, the team regrouped in Orlando during January 1996 and dedicated themselves to the goal of winning a gold medal. They bonded as a team like never before—living, practicing, and even socializing together. The first match of the Olympics (held in Orlando not far from the training center on July 21, 1996) was attended by an unprecedented 25,000 fans who watched the Americans beat Denmark 3–0, despite a temperature on the field of 100 degrees. The team continued to battle its way to the finals, winning over Sweden 2–1, and then advancing over Norway in a breathtaking 2–1 victory in overtime. Another record crowd turned out to watch them triumph 2–1 over a superb Chinese team, although as Time magazine's Bill Saporito pointed out, few television viewers saw them win the gold medal because NBC scuttled the game in favor of the diving competition.

The Olympic victory turned the national spotlight on the team, bringing lucrative endorsement deals to several players as well as requests for interviews and personal appearances. Posters of superstar Mia Hamm and her selection as one of People magazine's Most Beautiful People of the Year gave rise to what was termed, in '90s parlance, the "babe" factor, a distraction that was further fueled by Julie Foudy's photograph in a swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated and Brandi Chastain's appearance in Gear magazine clad only in cleats and a strategically placed soccer ball. The latter raised some eyebrows, but the team's predominant image was a wholesome, positive one, especially for young female soccer hopefuls, many of whom had never before had strong role models in the sports world. Noted Akers in reference to the team's high profile:

Now little girls all over the U.S. and the world put on their uniforms and lace up their cleats with the example and opportunity of the U.S. National Team to inspire and encourage them to chase their dreams on the soccer filed—and beyond. This realization alone is an incredible and wonderful achievement for all of us who have battled and won the right to pursue our potential as soccer players and people.

When it came time to plan for the 1999 Women's World Cup, Marla Messing, CEO of the Women's World Cup Organizing Committee, convinced the male-dominated International Federation of Football Associations (FIFA) that the women's team was equal in drawing power to the men's. Thus, the 32 matches of the tournament were staged in large stadiums in major cities across the country and were also televised on ABC, ESPN, and ESPN2. Even the advertising had a gender-equity theme, like the Nike spot featuring Mia Hamm and Michael Jordan in an "anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better" face-off. "We have established a worldclass, world-caliber, stand alone event for women like none other," Messing boasted. Indeed, the tournament proved to be all that and more, generating the sale of some 650,000 tickets—75,000 for the opening game alone, the largest number ever for a women's sporting event. And the women's team didn't disappoint the promoters or the fans. From their first win over Denmark (3–0) to their quarterfinal squeak by Germany (3–2), the excitement generated by the U.S. team eventually drew over 90,000 fans, including President Bill Clinton, to Pasadena's Rose Bowl on July 10, 1999, to witness the final play-off game against a formidable Chinese team.

The event was as taut a defensive battle as anyone could imagine, resulting in 120 minutes of scoreless play, including two overtime periods. During the last breathless minutes of overtime, the Chinese almost stole the match, but Fan Yunjie 's header off a corner kick was mercifully cleared off the line by Kristine Lilly. The game then went to a penalty-kick shoot-off—much dreaded by players and determined as much by luck as by skill. Americans Carla Overbeck and Joy Fawcett made their first two penalty shots, as did Xie Huilin and Qui Haiyan of China. Liu Ying , however, was stopped by a tremendous save by American goalkeeper Briana Scurry, which cleared the way for Kristine Lilly to land her shot and tip the score to 3–2. Zhang Ouying then made the fourth penalty kick, as did Mia Hamm. Sue Wen also connected, tying up the score. Then Brandi Chastain slammed the ball into the left corner of the goal to win the match 5–4 and clinch America's place in soccer history. While Chastain joyfully fell to her knees, pumped her fists in the air, and stripped off her jersey to reveal her black sports bra, her teammates flooded the field to hoist the World Cup and receive their gold medals. "The last five games have been for all of America to jump on our backs," said Tiffeny Milbrett . "This was for us. That's why we wanted it so bad. We had come from so far and done so much. We want to be able to go out right." Commenting on a win that was watched with awe around the world, Kristine Lilly noted: "This moment is more than a game. It's about female athletes. It's about sport. It's about everything. I don't think we can sustain this level of attention. But I think people caught on to us. They attached themselves to us and I don't think they're going to let go." Lilly's remark would prove to be prophetic.

The response to the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team proved just how far the world had come since the days of Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics, who wrote in 1937, "Let women do all the sports they wish—but not in public." Yet members of the team were not content to rest on their World Cup and Olympic successes. To advance their sport, they supported the founding of a professional American women's soccer league, an enterprise that would cost millions of dollars. By the crowds drawn to their matches around the world, as well as the newly proven television appeal of women's soccer, the team demonstrated that women's professional soccer in America had the potential to draw the kind of support required to sustain a new league. In April 2001, hailed as the premiere international professional women's league, the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA) made its debut appearance in a match between the Washington Freedom, Mia Hamm's team, and the Bay Area CyberRays, Brandi Chastain's team, at RKF Stadium in Washington, D.C. In an indication that the future of American women's professional soccer looks bright, start-up costs for the league ran to $64 million dollars. Two years before the league's first game, Mia Hamm was already looking ahead of its inception: "I hope it can succeed on its own…. What we don't want is just for it to be around for a couple of years. We want it to endure the test of time and be around for my kids to play in."

Among the standouts of the history-making 1999 World Cup victory were names that would not be soon forgotten: Michelle Akers, Brandi Chastain, Joy Fawcett, Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Carla Overbeck, and Briana Scurry.

Michelle Akers

An original member of the U.S. national team, midfielder Michelle Akers scored the first goal in the squad's history in 1985. In career scoring, she was just five goals behind Mia Hamm in the spring of 1999, even though she had played 32 fewer matches. Hamm called her the best goal scorer ever to play the game: "Not only does she have a shot that is probably measurably harder than anyone else's in the world … but her sophistication in finishing is remarkable. Michelle scores goals through power and finesse and from all different angles."

A four-time All-American at the University of Southern Florida, in 1988 Akers received the first Hermann Trophy, given to the nation's top college player. She almost took the 1991 World Cup single-handedly, scoring ten goals in six matches, including the winner in the final with Norway. In 1995, she went down with head and knee injuries in the opener, and the team subsequently lost the cup.

Distinguished by her thick mane of curly blonde hair and knees that bear the scars of at least 12 operations, Akers became a symbol of triumph over adversity as the nation watched her play the highest caliber of soccer while battling Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS). "It's just a pain in the butt to live with, there's no other way to put it," said a 33-year-old Akers who was diagnosed with CFIDS in 1993 and had to alter her game to conserve energy. "You get these migraines that are unbearable, you can't sleep, you're dizzy all the time and your short-term memory is shot." For her to keep playing, Akers' will often had to override warning symptoms from her body. At the 1996 Olympic semifinals against Norway, with every muscle in her body on fire, she saved the day by landing a penalty kick that tied the score 1–1 just 14 minutes before the end of the match. (Shannon MacMillan went on to score the game-winning point in overtime.) After the penalty kick, Akers was ousted off the field by the U.S. trainers, who immediately hooked her up to an IV. The effort cost her a year (1997) on the sidelines.

Although up and running for World Cup '99, Akers was never sure if she'd be able to play until just before a game, and once in the game she never knew how long she would hold out: "I have to make sure I stay strong enough to make it to the next game. I always have to worry if I'm going to run out of gas. And it can happen without any warning." She played the full opener against Denmark (and scored a goal), but only made it through the first half in the game against Nigeria before coach DiCicco took her out. In the final play-off game against China, Akers made the most of what would be her last World Cup, spearheading a China-breaking defense with a recklessness that forced her out of the game near the end of regulation play and would cost her the post-game celebrations and appearances. She once remarked: "I need to play with wild abandon every once in a while or it wouldn't be me."

A shoulder injury combined with the CFIDS kept Akers from joining her team for their silvermedal-winning run at the Olympics in 2000. That year, her autobiography, written with Gregg Lewis, appeared as The Game and the Glory: An Autobiography. To build back her strength with hopes of playing in the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA) during 2002, Akers took a year off in 2001, spending time in physical therapy and running her non-profit organization for kids, Soccer Outreach International. Akers helped to increase awareness about CFIDS by testifying before Congress in May 1996. "If you saw me today," she said, "you would see a healthy, physically fit, elite athlete. But I'm not. I am sick. Some days it is all I can do to get through the day…. I have learned to accept CFIDS as an opportunity to make a difference. I have turned this weakness into a strength … and even though it is still raging inside me, I refuse to be beaten by it. I will overcome. And I will show others how to overcome."

Brandi Chastain

Noted for her diligence, versatility, and phenomenal kick, Brandi Chastain emerged as the hero of the 1999 World Cup tournament. After committing a huge gaffe in the game against Germany, when she scored in her own net, Chastain set things right by slamming in the fifth and decisive penalty kick in the spectacular play-off game against China. The winning goal prompted her to tear off her jersey (revealing a black Nike sports bra) in a gesture that, despite some controversy, would live on in the national consciousness as symbolic of the historic victory. Remarked Skip Wollenberg in July 1999: "Brandi Chastain may have created the best-known new undie since the Wonderbra when she doffed her jersey after delivering the winning kick at the Women's World Cup. Nike, which makes the soccer team's sports bras, is now trying to figure out how to convert that moment of marketing magic into new sales." For her part, Chastain later chalked the moment up to temporary insanity: "I thought, My God, this is the greatest moment of my life on the soccer field! I just lost my head." Her stunning pose—sans uniform—in Gear magazine also captured more than a little attention. "Hey, I ran my ass off for this body," she noted. "I'm proud of it."

Chastain played forward on the 1991 World championship team, then was not called up again until the 1996 Olympics, at which time she switched to the backfield. When the team shifted formations in 1998, she moved to midfield, displaying again her ability to play a variety of positions. Her strong kicking skills prompted coach Tony DiCicco to remark: "You can't tell if she's right- or left-footed, which is very rare." Chastain practices with a vengeance and is also a consummate student of the game. "If there's a game on TV, she's in front of it," said DiCicco.

A native Californian, Chastain is married to Jerry Smith, head coach at Santa Clara University. During her down time, she serves as an assistant women's soccer coach at Santa Clara. Chastain's off-field activities, which have included several appearances on late-night television, have not interfered with her seriousness about soccer and the reputation of the women's national team. "People will keep this in their memory a long time," she noted, referring to America's recapturing of the World Cup. "The lasting impression will be that 20 people on the field gave their all. Not only for themselves but for their country."

Joy Fawcett

Joy Fawcett, along with teammate Carla Overbeck, redefined the term "soccer mom." Within three months of giving birth to each of her daughters, Fawcett returned to the field, keeping her girls with her on the road and while training in Florida. A veteran of the women's national team since 1987, she started and played every minute of every match of World Cup '95 and the '96 Olympics. At the Olympics, Fawcett assisted on Tiffeny Milbrett's gold medal-clinching goal against China. A three-time All-American at the University of California, Berkeley, Fawcett also holds the school's all-time scoring record with 55 goals and 23 assists. In 1993, she was hired as UCLA's first women's soccer coach, a position she held until 1998.

Her husband Walter, a software engineer in Orange County, California, visits the family at least once a month. "It's crazy," remarked teammate Kristine Lilly who watches Fawcett's balancing act with something like awe. "After practice, we get to kick back and relax a little, but Joy is off running around with the kids. I don't know where she gets the energy from." Fawcett, though, thinks nothing of combining soccer with raising a family: "I have eight brothers and sisters, so seeing my mom raise all of us and run a day-care center at the same time, well, I've got some catching up to do." Since 1998, both Fawcett and Overbeck, the only other mother on the team, have received a little help from the U.S. Soccer Federation which agreed to pay $750 a week for a nanny; still, the commitments of a soccer career and family life call for a good balancing act. Coach Tony DiCicco was initially worried that the arrangement might affect Fawcett's stamina, but she remained a stalwart of the team. A founding player of the WUSA, Fawcett began her play for the league on the San Diego Spirit. At age five, her daughter Katey was ready to start playing in a kiddies soccer league and was already bragging about her kick.

Julie Foudy

By all accounts, U.S. team midfielder and co-captain Julie Foudy ("Loudy") is the team loudmouth. "She's very vocal and directive on the field," noted teammate Carla Overbeck. "Her competitive spirit is unbelievable, and she makes sure we keep our heads in the game." Just 17 when she joined the national team in 1988, Foudy made her presence felt immediately. "Oh, she was little Miss Prom Queen right from the start," remarked Akers. "She didn't miss a step, and nothing intimidates her. She has the most exuberant personality of anyone I've ever met, and she's dynamic on and off the field."

A California native, Foudy was a two-time all American at Mission Viejo High School in California and a four-time All-American at Stanford University. Graduating with a degree in biology in 1993, where she was accepted into medical school but delayed enrollment for the 1996 Olympics, Foudy started and played every match at the 1991 Women's World Cup. She missed the 1995 championships, however, because she was on her honeymoon. At the 1996 Olympics, she assisted on Shannon MacMillan's spectacular sudden-death overtime goal in the 2–1 win over Norway, which Mia Hamm called "the most important pass ever for women's soccer in the United States."

In 1998, Foudy was hired by ESPN as an instudio analyst for the men's World Cup. "She studied her butt off for that, learning all she could about the players and the teams," said Kristine Lilly, who wasn't surprised by Foudy's foray into television. "When she's committed to something, she'll do it to the best of her abilities." Foudy received excellent reviews for her commentary.

A well-built 5'6" brunette with a radiant smile, Foudy was also tapped by Sports Illustrated for their swimsuit issue, although the shoot was a wholesome frolic on the beach with her husband Ian. Then it was right back to barking out orders to teammates (part of her job as midfielder—soccer's equivalent to a quarterback). "If I was quiet," she said, "people would think something was wrong." Foudy was a founding player of the WUSA, beginning her participation in the league on the San Diego Spirit.

Mia Hamm

The star forward of the U.S. World Cup Women's Soccer Team and the number one goal scorer ever, man or woman, Mia Hamm served as a driving force behind the growing popularity of women's soccer in America during the 1990s. Following the gold-medal win of the Women's Soccer Team at the 1996 Olympics, the fresh-faced 27-year-old became one of the most recognized athletes in the nation and a role model to thousands of young schoolgirls who dreamed of glory on the soccer field. "I think she's the best player in the world, absolutely," remarked longtime teammate Julie Foudy. "In the women's game, when you find a fast player they're usually not as sharp technically because they've always been able to kick the ball and outrun everybody. That's what makes Mia so tough, she's fast and she has great technical ability." But Hamm has not always had the same ease with her star status as she does on the field. "I'm just another player trying to fill my role on this talented team," she said in a 1998 interview in Scholastic Coach & Athletic Director. "Since I score goals, I get more attention. But ask anyone on the team and they will tell you how important our defenders, midfielders, and goalkeepers are to our success."

A self-described "military brat" as the daughter of an Air Force colonel, Hamm grew up in Florence, Italy, and in American cities in Alabama, California, Texas, and Virginia, following her father's postings. Constantly on the move, she found stability on the soccer field during her young life. Although she played on a few all-girl teams while growing up, primarily she played with the boys. "It was either play with the boys or not play at all," she writes in her 1999 book Go for the Goal. "Most important, playing with boys really helped me become competitive and develop that combative spirit I have today." As a kid, Hamm played other sports too, trying to keep up with her older brother Garrett, a Thai-American orphan whom the Hamms adopted when he was eight. Mia was five when Garrett joined the family, and the two became best pals almost immediately. She would later recall: "He let me hang out with him and his friends and play football, soccer and basketball with them." Garrett's own dreams of a professional baseball career were dashed when he was diagnosed with aplastic anemia at 16, but he remained a constant source of inspiration to his little sister.

At 14, Hamm played in a U.S. Soccer Federation women's tournament in New Orleans, Louisiana, where she met Anson Dorrance, then coach of the women's team at the University of North Carolina and of the U.S. women's national team. He was so impressed with her explosive speed and athletic ability that he recruited her on the spot, making her the youngest player ever to make the national team. Dorrance was later quoted in Newsweek (June 21, 1999) as remarking: "this little girl took off like she was shot out of a cannon. I thought, 'Oh my God.' I couldn't believe the athleticism." Dorrance also steered Hamm to the University of North Carolina, where he served as her coach. With Hamm's parents in Italy during her college years, she found a father figure in Dorrance and became close to his family. "Even as a freshman, Mia had unbelievable talent," said Dorrance. "If she had never practiced a lick, she'd still have been one of college soccer's all-time great players."

But Hamm did practice, developing a masterful dribble—executed equally well with either foot—incredible focus, and, of course, her remarkable ability to slam the ball into the net to make the goal. "A great finisher can analyze in a split second what the goalie is doing, what surface of the foot to use, and then put the ball in exactly the right spot," she said. "It's an ability to slow down time. You don't actually shoot any faster than any other players do, but you process a lot more information in the same time." A relentless competitor, she developed a reputation for pushing herself to an almost super-human capacity.

Hamm played on four straight NCAA championship teams, was named All-American three times, and became the NCAA's all-time scorer. In 1991, she took a year off from college to help the national team win the first-ever Women's World championship held in China, a victory that was barely noted in American newspapers. She then returned to school, graduating in 1994 with a degree in political science and an armful of athletic awards, including the Mary Garber Award as ACC Female Athlete of the Year and the Honda Broderick Cup given to the most outstanding female athlete in collegiate sports. Soon after graduating, she married Christiaan Corey, a Marine Corps pilot and fellow Chapel Hill student.

There was little time to enjoy married life, however, as another World Cup tournament was on the horizon. The hype surrounding the 1994 men's World Cup, coupled with the addition of women's soccer as an Olympic-medal event, brought a rush of attention to the women's soccer team. A new training center was established in Florida, and team members were put on salary for the first time, thus allowing them to focus entirely on World Cup practice. They faced new challenges when Coach Dorrance left to focus on his collegiate team, and Tony DiCicco took his place. In addition, the team was up against the promise of stiff competition in defense of the Cup. "Anyone of the teams could beat us this year," Hamm cautioned at the time. "We're all basically equal in talent." The remark would prove to be prophetic. The U.S. was ultimately overcome in the semifinals by their arch rivals Norway, who kept them at bay by establishing a 1–0 lead in the first half of the game which they never relinquished. The tournament saw Hamm fight for her team not only from her regular position but also as goalkeeper, which she played for several minutes in their second game, against Denmark, when Briana Scurry was ejected on a controversial hand-ball infraction and the team had already used up its allotment of three substitutions.

If anything, the loss of the World Cup energized Hamm, who set the determined tone for the team as they entered the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Spraining her ankle in the opening round against Sweden, she rose above the pain to help the U.S. to victory over Norway in the semifinal, paving the way for the final confrontation with China. A record 76,000 fans filled the stadium to witness the match-up, including Hamm's family and brother Garrett, who was now very ill. Hamm performed several crucial passes to push the Americans ahead 2–1, until her ankle finally gave out just before the end of the game. Her teammates kept China at bay for the remaining 60 seconds, and they had the gold. Hamm ignored the pain while sprinting to the field to join her teammates. Summing up the leaping, screaming, and hugging that followed, she noted: "We went bananas."

Hailed as the hero of the game, Hamm was now the darling of the sports world. Her celebrity status grew daily with a flood of endorsement offers that included Nike and Gatorade. There were endless requests for interviews and photo sessions. A crowd of adoring fans dogged her for autographs, and she made a television commercial with fellow North Carolina alum Michael Jordan. But the notoriety made her cringe. "It's weird getting attention," she said. "I'm not this perfect person." In May 1997, she was named one of People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People, an honor about which her teammates proudly teased her without mercy.

While Hamm was adjusting to life in the spotlight, her brother was waiting for a bone-marrow transplant, his only hope for survival. Hamm used her new-found celebrity to help in the search for a compatible marrow donor for him, a quest complicated by Garrett's Thai-Anglo background and lack of biological siblings. She used every public appearance, speaking engagement, and soccer clinic to distribute flyers explaining the importance of bone-marrow screening and describing the process. Garrett finally received a transplant in February 1997 but died from complications the following April, leaving behind a wife and small son. His death was a devastating blow for Hamm.

To be with her family, she missed the first two games of the Olympic Victory Tour in April 1997. Knowing that her brother would have wanted her to get back out on the field, she joined the team for the third game of the tour in Milwaukee: "To focus mentally after that ordeal was one of the biggest challenges I've faced, and I must admit I really struggled to cope with my emotions and concentrate on soccer, but my teammates were remarkable in their caring for me and my family. There's no way I could have come back without their support and love, and I will always be grateful." To carry on her brother's name, she established The Mia Hamm Foundation, which raises funds and makes charitable grants to organizations dedicated to battling bone-marrow diseases.

While some might have thought that the Olympic gold-medal performance of 1996 would be hard to surpass, Hamm and the U.S. Women's Team went on to victory in the 1999 Women's World Cup—a win of epic proportions both for the team and for women's soccer in America—which the players felt eclipsed any of their previous successes. Over a three-week period in late June and July 1999, the tournament was played in seven different venues across the U.S. and became one of the most spectacular sporting events in recent years. "The crowd was absolutely unbelievable," said Hamm of the record 79,000 fans who turned out at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, to watch the first game. She booted in the first goal 17 minutes into the

first half, but it was team chemistry that won the game and propelled them through five subsequent wins to a final match-up with their old nemesis, China. The play-off game—before a record crowd of over 90,000 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, and an unprecedented number of television viewers as well—resulted in 120 minutes of scoreless soccer, including two 15-minute sudden death overtime periods. In the end, everything would boil down to a penalty-kick shoot-out to determine the winner. After scoring kicks by Carla Overbeck, Joy Fawcett, Kristine Lilly, Hamm, and Brandi Chastain, and a spectacular save by goalkeeper Briana Scurry who prevented China's Liu Ying from scoring on the third penalty kick, the United States won 5–4, securing their second World Cup triumph. After the team swarmed onto the field to join Chastain, the victory celebration began—initiated by a lap with Old Glory around the arena and the gold-medal ceremony—and then went on for days. After a whirlwind of parades and personal appearances, Hamm and her teammates were back in camp preparing for the U.S. Cup in early October and the 2000 Olympics (where the team would take the silver medal).

Hamm's dream of a professional women's soccer league came to fruition in 2001, when she played for the Washington Freedom, one of eight teams of the fledgling Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA). For the league to succeed, it was clear that Hamm (voted "the most appealing female athlete" in a Burns Sports and Celebrities poll of ad executives) would need to put aside her dislike of personal publicity to take an active, visible part in promoting the WUSA. While recognizable faces play an enormous role in sports, "[f]or new leagues, stars are even more vital," wrote Rachel Alexander in the Washington Post (April 11, 2001). "Fans need a point of entry." Having once told a reporter to "get a life" when asked how it felt to make her recordbreaking 108th international goal (against Brazil in 1999), Hamm may never have warmed to the spotlight, but, as Billie Jean King noted, Hamm's goal of advancing soccer would likely require her to bear the burdens of fame. "It is very, very important to her," said Hamm's agent David Bober, "to make [the league] work."

When not on the field or training, Hamm serves as a volunteer coach for the University of North Carolina women's soccer team. She enjoys working with young people and is also active with City Block Soccer, an inner-city soccer league which she was involved in as a child, and Nike's P.L.A.Y. (Participate in the Lives of American Youth). For relaxation, she plays golf, reads, or just kicks back and watches television. Although known as shy and serious in demeanor, she shows other traits to her teammates, prompting Foudy to remark: "I think Mia's dream is to direct 'Saturday Night Live.' She's like this closet comic. We're constantly acting out skits. She has this dry sense of humor, and she does these nutty impersonations. Unfortunately, she doesn't let people see that side of her."

In addition to soccer, Hamm is devoted to the work of her foundation, which was established with the support of Nike, Mattel, and Gatorade. Along with supporting bone-marrow research, the foundation's mission is to empower young female athletes. Hamm's brother Garrett is with her every time she steps onto a field. In her deal with Nike, the shoe company agreed to inscribe his initials, GJH, on the bottom of every pair of her signature shoes, the Nike Air Zoom M9 ("M9" standing for Mia and her number 9). "I've been blessed by so many things," she noted, "but I would give them all up to have him back."

Kristine Lilly

Since her first appearance with the national team against China in 1987, forward Kristine Lilly made more appearances for her country than any other soccer player in history, male or female. Raised in Wilton, Connecticut, where she returns each summer to run the Kristine Lilly Soccer Academy, she led Wilton High School to three state titles. At North Carolina University, Lilly was a four-time All-American and won four NCAA titles (1989–92).

Known for her work ethic and drive, Lilly is described as "the epitome of consistency" by teammates Overbeck, Foudy, and Akers. "She's my favorite player in the world," adds Akers. "She has it all. She's got the winner mentality. She's extremely skillful with both feet. Tactically, she knows the game as well as anyone. When I talk to young kids, I tell them to watch Lil."

Lilly, who is never far away from her beloved golden retriever Molson, is known as a compassionate friend to her teammates. A big New York Jets fan, she was particularly pleased that their home stadium in New Jersey's Meadowlands was selected as one of the venues for the 1999 World Cup.

Carla Overbeck

Like her teammate Joy Fawcett, co-captain and defender Carla Overbeck combines motherhood with the demands of her career. Her young son Jackson accompanied her at camp and on the road, and her husband Greg, a restaurateur in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, visits the two for a few days every couple weeks. "It's really tough being without my family," he admitted. "But Carla has worked so hard and sacrificed everything to be on this team, and I totally support what she's doing." Although Jackson, who along with Joy Fawcett's two girls is in the care of a nanny when she is practicing or playing, seems to be thriving, Overbeck does have moments of doubt. "Now Jackson associates his father with the telephone," she says. "The other day my cell phone rang when Greg was with us, and Jackson still said, 'Daddy.'"

Overbeck attended Richardson High School in Dallas but didn't play soccer until she was at the University of North Carolina, where she won four NCAA titles. She made her first appearance with the national team in June 1988 and was one of two players to start and play every minute of both the World Cup '95 and the '96 Olympics (fellow mom Joy Fawcett was the other). From August 4, 1993, to August 1, 1996, Overbeck played 63 consecutive matches for the U.S., a record for any U.S. National Team member, male or female. She was a founding player of the WUSA who began her play with the league as a member of the Carolina Courage. When not playing or training, she serves as the assistant women's soccer coach at Duke University.

While to her teammates Overbeck is a calming influence—"You could make a horrible play, and she's right there telling you to forget about it," said Kristine Lilly—such calmness does not extend to her opponents: "If you're a forward shooting down the tube at her," said Akers, "you'd better strap on your shinguards 'cause she's not gonna let you get by easy. She's hard back there. And she's totally committed to winning. That motivates the rest of the team to do the same."

Briana Scurry

"I knew that was going to be the one," said goalkeeper Briana Scurry following her remarkable block of Liu Ying 's shot at the goal during the penalty-kick shoot-off that determined the winner of the U.S.-China play-off for the 1999 World Cup. "She just didn't look like she wanted to be there. She didn't have that confidence. You could see it in the way she walked up there." Scurry, who hadn't faced a penalty kicker in four years, took full advantage of her observations, staring Ying down with her formidable scowl, then taking a dive left to swat away the oncoming ball. Her job done, she didn't even watch teammate Chastain's winning drive into the net, afraid she might jinx it. Only when the screaming crowd of 90,000 rose to their feet did the joy register in a smile. Even in the middle of celebrating the victory, Scurry was already thinking about which of her teammates she might not see again. "I'll probably have post-excitement syndrome," she said about the days ahead. "Be totally depressed for the next three months."

The U.S. team's only African-American starter, Scurry earned the title of shutout queen while at the University of Massachusetts, where she racked up 37 shutouts in 65 starts. She joined the U.S. national team in 1984 and during her first season recorded 7 shutouts in 12 starts. Although she suffered a back injury in an auto accident in 1995, she was back in goal for the World Cup as well as for the Olympics in 1996 and 2000. A founding player of the WUSA, Scurry began her contribution to the league as a member of the Atlanta Beat.

Described by Mia Hamm as "cat-quick" and having nerves of steel, Scurry regards courage as one of the most important traits of goal keeping. "Many aspects of the position require that you stick your head into places most people wouldn't dare," she noted. "Sometimes you get kicked in places any sane person definitely wouldn't want to get kicked in, but that's just part of the job."


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suggested reading:

Longman, Jere. The Girls of Summer: The U.S. Women's Soccer Team and How It Changed the World. HarperCollins, 2000.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Soccer: Women's World Cup, 1999

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