(L-R) Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy celebrate during the ‘Fan Celebration Tour’ final against Mexico December 8, 2004 in Carson, California.
“We were always told no, you can’t do that,” Gabarra explained. “You can’t play sports, you can’t wear these clothes, you can’t be an athlete, you can’t. We all grew up in that time where we were told no, no, no, no. We had to fight for everything we wanted.
“My high school football team didn’t start until the year before I started high school, and there were very few varsity teams. If we wanted something, we had to achieve it. So, we had this burning desire that was born out of the adversity that we collectively went through.
The USWNT won the first-ever World Cup title, beating favorites Norway 2-1 in the final. Michelle Akers-Stahl won the Golden Boot for the most goals scored in the tournament (10) and Gabarra received the Golden Ball as the best player.
1996 Olympics and 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup
Five years later, women’s soccer made its Olympic debut at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Although the final was not televised, the USWNT made a splash by beating China 2-1. The Olympic gold medal established the USWNT as a force to watch.
When the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup rolled around, still at home, the fans were ready.
Team members recalled being stuck in traffic as they made their way to Giants Stadium in New Jersey for their opener against Denmark. It suddenly dawned on them that the traffic jam was caused by all the fans trying to get to the game. Nearly 79,000 people filled the stadium that day, a record attendance for a women’s sporting event. They saw Team USA defeat Denmark, 3-0, with goals scored by Hamm, Foudy and Lilly.
Three weeks later, 90,185 people filled the Rose Bowl to watch the women’s final, USA vs. China. The scoreless match ended in a penalty shootout, with Brandi Chastain putting the USWNT ahead, 5-4.
The 1999 World Cup set the “standard for what a women’s sporting event should look like,” Foudy said.
Equally important, the USWNT set the standard for American women’s soccer going forward. And they have become a role model for women’s sports in general.
Impact on the USWNT
Many of the women who had become household names from the 1999 World Cup went on to play on the USWNT. Although Gabarra retired from the national team in 1996, Hamm, Foudy and Chastain retired in 2004; Lilly in 2010, etc. In the years that they continued to play, they inspired the next generation of young players, who found more and more opportunities to play.
When Hamm was inducted into the United States Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame in June 2022, a few current USWNT members filmed a short video to show at the induction.
First to speak was Becky Sauerbrunn, the 37-year-old defender who has appeared in three World Cups and two Olympic tournaments, and made the national women’s U-16 team for the first time in 2000.
“I think I can speak for everyone when I say you are a role model and an inspiration to all of us,” Sauerbrunn told Hamm.
“You’re on all of our personal Mt. Rushmores as well,” added Megan Rapinoe, who etched her own legacy on the Football Wall of Fame. “None of us would literally be here without you.”
Rapinoe was part of the U-20 women’s national team in 2003 and the senior national team in 2006. At the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, she was awarded the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball. gold, and she won her second Olympic medal of 2020.
Sauerbrunn is the current captain of the USWNT and played in the 2022 Concacaf Final against Canada. Rapinoe – also 37 – replaced striker Mallory Pugh, 24, in the semi-final and was included in the squad for her winning mentality and experience. Ten Concacaf squad players are under 26.
But new players don’t just learn from USWNT veterans. They are trying to maintain the legacy left by the World Cup and Olympics gold medal winning teams of the 1990s.
“They created a legacy early on that just instilled that drive and that will to fight, and that has just been woven into the DNA of this team,” 26-year-old midfielder Andi Sullivan said before the 2022 Concacaf semi-final against Costa Rica. Sullivan was playing in his first Concacaf tournament with the senior national team.
“We realize we’re in the situation we’re in because of the foundation they laid for us years and years ago,” Sullivan continued. “So we have a big weight on our shoulders that we want to honour, and then we also want to pass it on to the next generation. It’s a big part of the values of this team and what we want to live on a daily basis.
Mia Hamm poses for a photo during the 2022 United States Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame red carpet event on June 24, 2022 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Impact on American Football
The impact of the USWNT on women’s and women’s soccer in this country almost goes without saying. The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) is now well established with 12 teams. At the NCAA level, there are 333 women’s Division I soccer teams in the United States, up from the few that existed when Hamm, Foudy and others played in the 1980s. And at the youth level, more than 3 million players are registered in the United States, 89% more than in 1990.
“There are so many more opportunities for young girls to play at different levels in different environments,” Foudy commented to Hamm in her podcast. Both women have daughters and have organized camps and programs for children.
The reason for this growth?
Maybe it’s because the USWNT made the sport cool. And okay. They helped show that girls can be athletes as well as anything they want to be.
“Female athletes are celebrated, they’re not viewed any differently now,” Gabarra said.
“The game has evolved because so many people are playing now, and the coaches are spectacular and have football backgrounds. They’ve played the game and invested in it, studying it and making a career out of it. There was no never anything like this when I was growing up.
Gabarra, Foudy and Hamm all have daughters and have witnessed the growth of women’s football and women’s sport in general in the 21st century.
“I have two daughters and they can play any sport,” Gabarra said.
Impact on women’s sport
The USWNT has inspired more than football players.
Before the USWNT flew to Mexico for the 2022 Concacaf W Championship, 2018 Olympic alpine skier Alice Merryweather watched them play a “friendly” against Colombia in Utah in late June. This was shortly after the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and Merryweather got fired. For years, she was particularly inspired by how the USWNT championed women’s rights: gender equality and unequal pay.
“It was so powerful to see them, to see them do what they’re so good at,” Merryweather said. “I left that game feeling so empowered.”
Merryweather, 25, grew up near Boston and was a fan of the Boston Breakers team (originally part of the Women’s United Soccer Association, now an NWSL team). Lilly was one of the founders of the team and Merryweather recalls seeing Lilly play against her fellow hero, Mia Hamm, in a match in the early 2000s.
“I was such a fan of them,” she said.
Alpine skiing was her main sport, but Merryweather also played football on her school and club teams, and she looked up to these sporting heroines.
“They normalized the idea that women could be badass athletes,” she said. “I saw them as powerful athletes, powerful sports personalities. They were my idols. I didn’t see them differently because they were women.
Looking back more than 30 years, Gabarra had no idea the impact she and the other women in the USWNT would have on a generation of female athletes. She just considered it an honor to be part of the team.
“It’s a privilege to be part of something bigger than yourself and to find success and to have the ability to fight for others who don’t have the same platform,” Gabarra said. . “I have always been very grateful for this opportunity.”