Brandi Chastain savored USWNT triumph as much as her own in '99
On Sunday, as Carli Lloyd scored the first of her three goals in the United States' win over Japan in the Women's World Cup final, the face of the last U.S. title was 350 miles away, sprinting across the campus of Linfield College in Oregon with 175 teenage girls right behind her, each of them eager to witness an American championship live for the first time in their lives.
Then, as Brandi Chastain and the participants in the U.S. Youth Soccer Region IV camp finally arrived at the on-campus auditorium where the game was being shown, Lloyd put her second goal in the net, in the fifth minute, with Lauren Holiday's 14th-minute score and Lloyd's 16th-minute strike from the midfield line soon to follow.
Whether it's fortunate or unfortunate that Chastain wasn't able to be in Vancouver for the United States' eventual 5-2 win depends on how you feel about women's soccer and the importance of such camps, which help determine which young women will be among the next wave of American soccer stars. For Chastain, whose penalty kick sealed the U.S.' gold-medal win over China in 1999, there wasn't another place in the world she'd rather have been to witness history.
"I sat in that auditorium with these 15-to-17-year-olds, and I unrepentantly cried at the end," Chastain told FOX Sports in a phone interview Monday night. "I smiled and laughed and applauded, and, oh, what a great game it was."
Chastain made the commitment to coach the camp last fall, knowing that it could conflict with a potential World Cup championship match. And while she'd have no doubt embraced the opportunity to be there at BC Place, along with her husband, her former teammates and thousands upon thousands of U.S. supporters, there was perhaps even more satisfaction in detaching herself from the scene and experiencing it with the girls who might have the most to gain from the win.
"I think it's one of those moments that you don't quite fully understand how you will feel until it happens, because it's been 16 years," Chastain said of her emotions as the U.S. celebrated the win, just as she and her team did in '99.
"For me as a young girl growing up, I never saw a Women's World Cup. I never got to cheer for an Olympic team. So I didn't know what I was going to feel watching this final game. But what I do know is once it was over -- and literally, as the clock was ticking down, I was watching it, and the girls started counting down with the clock -- I got an amazing rush of chills up my spine and then tears just rolling down my face.
"I was feeling something for the first time," she continued, "and I was watching from a few different perspectives: One, as a woman who had participated in the first-ever World Cup, I was seeing it for the first time as a spectator. I'd worked World Cups before, and I'd been involved, so I hadn't had this kind of removed perspective before.
"So to see how this game moved me, personally, and how it moved the young girls I was with -- the majority of them weren't even born in 1999 and only use YouTube as a reference to the last time the women won a World Cup -- and to see Carli Lloyd and Julie Johnston as examples of what these girls have looking forward, using (them) as role models and as players, it just got me super emotional and excited about what we have going forward."
The moment, as one might expect, also brought Chastain back to that 1999 victory at the Rose Bowl, and her epic celebration that resulted in one of the most iconic photos in sports history.
"It's hard to express the emotion of accomplishment, of aspiring to a goal and meeting it, especially one so difficult as winning the World Cup," she said. "You run the gamut -- just talking about it right now, I'm getting chills -- of how powerful it is and mind-bending and life-altering that moment becomes. It changes your life instantaneously."
However, Chastain is quick to correct those who call her goal -- on the fifth and final penalty kick in a shootout, a try she only took after a last-minute lineup change by Tony DiCicco -- the most important of her career, or even of that World Cup. That, she says, came in the 1999 quarterfinals against Germany, when she redeemed herself following a devastating own goal in the fifh minute with a top-shelf goal in the correct net in the 49th minute of the United States' 3-2 win.
"In that moment (after the own goal), Carla Overbeck, our captain, came over and, not literally, but figuratively, with her words, put her arms around me and said, 'Don't worry about it. We've got a lot of game left. You're going to help us win. We need you,'" Chastain recalled. "And in that moment, I believed her.
"We went on to win that game on Joy Fawcett's header off a corner kick and that took us to the semifinal against Brazil and ultimately to the penalty kicks in the final against China. So that kick to me, even though (my goal) was very significant because it was the last one, I feel that it was, for me, the easier of them because Bri had made a great save already, all the four kickers before me -- Joy, Carla, Christine (Lilly) and Mia (Hamm) -- had done such a great job scoring theirs, that I felt like mine was already in.
"I didn't have a care in the world at that point," she added. "They made it very, very easy."
Still, the championship-winner is the goal for which Chastain is most remembered, and with the fame of being a World Cup hero comes a certain responsibility to not only promote the sport in the immediate aftermath, but also to help grow it in the future. It's a role Lloyd will soon come to understand and one Chastain, who also played on the World Cup-winning team in the inaugural 1991 tournament, has embraced for the better part of her career.
"I think the only pressure to me was to try to say yes to absolutely everything, because women's soccer, back in the day -- before we had a World Cup, before we had an Olympic Games, before I ever wore a U.S. National Team jersey -- was anonymous, and we played soccer because we loved it and we loved what we learned from it and we loved what made us feel good and we loved to compete," Chastain said.
"That seems to be the impetus for all of us to be involved, but I think that when you put on that jersey, when you say you belong to the U.S. Women's Soccer team, or soccer family, there's a wonderful responsibility and opportunity to be an ambassador of something that's so incredibly powerful and unique, that has a history of such positivity, and Carli Lloyd will forever have an opportunity to use soccer as a vehicle for real-life change and positive impact.
"It's something that I'm blessed with every day, and for me, I want to continue to become a better coach so that I can influence more young players to be prepared for their one chance to potentially make a national team, and I want to share all that I've been given -- from U.S. Soccer, from my teammates, from my parents, from every coach on every team I've ever played with or against."
Despite the efforts of Chastain and others, however, women's soccer still has much more growth ahead of it than behind, and while some see that as an indictment of the U.S.' 16-year title drought, Chastain sees it as an opportunity moving forward.
"One, most people would say, is financially," Chastain said when asked how a World Cup championship changes the future of women's soccer. "We're still way behind the men -- and I saw something put out yesterday about the male team that wins gets the share of $35 million and the winners in this situation get $2 million, and that the USA men's team that got knocked out in the first round also made more than the winners of the Women's World Cup -- but there is a financial change.
"The financial reality of women's soccer in this country, in professional sports, we're still nowhere, nowhere, nowhere near where we'd like to be, and that is a long journey," she added.
"It's a labor of love and a lifetime commitment, for me and for other players like me who have since retired from this game, and for the players who are currently playing. It's a lifelong commitment to making it happen and I think women's soccer right now is a steal. I think there are a lot of people with a lot of deep pockets, and if they're looking for positive ways to spend their money -- and, I believe, in the future, in a very short-term investment, to make something great -- women's soccer is where it's at."
Chastain also argues that a World Cup win helps to legitimize not only women's soccer, but women's sports, in general.
"There's also the validation, the attention or the focus on women's soccer, and then therefore, women's sports collectively -- that circle expands to other people who may not have been talking about soccer," Chastain said.
"People are going to come up to Carli Lloyd like they have to me for 16 years and say, 'I remember where I was when I saw you win that game, and because of that, I started playing soccer,' or, 'My daughter started playing soccer.' It's, 'I watched that game with my niece,' or, 'I met my girlfriend,' or 'I met my husband.' These are significant moments in our sports history that people will use as a landmark of a time that was just spectacular."
So it's with that in mind that Chastain says it was a privilege, not a burden, to watch the biggest U.S. women's soccer match in 16 years from a college auditorium outside Portland. Because in doing so, she's doing her part to help grow the sport she changed forever with a left-footed penalty kick, a raucous celebration and a black sports bra all those years ago.
"Every single U.S. player, growing up, went to an Olympic development program camp and they made their regional team," Chastain said. "So the girls that are at the camp that I'm coaching right now are wearing the cleats of Julie Johnston, Christen Press, Alex Morgan, Hope Solo, Amy Rodriguez, who all played for our Region IV team.
"That, I think, is empowering, not to mention the other three regions of Carli Lloyd, Morgan Brian and all the other players. They all played in this program, so I think, to these girls, it's a wake-up call that this is their path toward what they potentially could be in the future. How great is that? Being able to be a part of someone's journey is such a gift.
"These are the '98, '99 and 2000 birth years," Chastain added of the girls she's coaching. "(My goal) has been their only reference point, the last time the U.S. won, until yesterday. Now they'll have multiple reference points, and today I feel a little lighter. I feel like now I don't have to answer a question that's been dogging me since 1999, which is, 'When will the U.S. win another World Cup?'"
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