Long gone are the days of Brandi Chastain ripping off her jersey to show the whole world what a woman’s sports bra really looks like during the ever-so-exciting 1999 Women’s World Cup final.
As 11 players took the field on July 10, 1999 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., thousands of young girls, and boys, wore their favorite number nine jersey, representing none other than soccer legend Mia Hamm. Fans from across the country packed 90,000 strong into the large stadium to cheer on the USWNT as they faced off against China. Hamm and Chastain would both score in penalty kicks, with Chastain’s sealing the deal, and doing so would go down in soccer and sporting history and earn them the name “The 99ers.”
While the 99ers are the last American team to have won the World Cup, that doesn’t mean they were a better team. In the mid to late 1990s, women’s soccer wasn’t an up-and-coming American pastime. However, in 1999, Americans — most for the first time — gathered to watch the U.S. team in the World Cup final. The biggest and most-watched moment came right as Chastain’s final penalty kick reached the back of the net, and dozens of cameras focused on her as she ripped off her jersey and exposed her black sports bra. What was known as the greatest female soccer match to date has silently faded into the past.
Today the names Hamm and Chastain might not even register to the newer or younger fans and the once most popular number nine jersey features a new name on the back, along with nearly all the other numbers (excluding captain Christie Rampone, who is the only remaining 99er on the team).
Today U.S. women’s soccer has a new face; or shall I say faces.
If one were to attend a USWNT soccer match today, they would see a sea of the numbers: 20, 13 and 1. All-time international goal scoring forward Abby Wambach wears the powerful number 20 jersey. Superstar and young-faced Alex Morgan wears number 13. Fierce and controversial Hope Solo wears the top goalkeeper number 1 jersey. Although the vast majority of fans choose these three numbers, the beauty about this modern team is that every number on the field is echoed on the backs of dozens, if not hundreds, of fans in the stands.
You see, this team isn’t just built on one or two stars. This team has the power of 23 behind it. 23 players make up this 2015 World Cup team and 23 players will go down in history if they can complete the job.
All 11 players on the field and the 12 sitting on the bench are known by nearly every spectator, and every player has her own fan base cheering them on. One doesn’t just get fans because of her looks or social media posts, although it certainly does help. These women can really play the game of soccer. This 2015 team doesn’t have 11 starters, it has have 23 of them. While some players certainly get more time on the pitch than others, the success of this team has come from the ability of any individual player to be switched in and out and for the team to still succeed, and succeeded it has.
This team has come a long way in just a few short weeks. After being placed in the tough Group D, otherwise known as the “group of death,” the U.S. team pulled in seven points after two wins and a draw to secure the top spot in its group and a high-placed seed in the elimination rounds. And after giving up only one goal in the first group round game against Australia, Solo and the outstanding U.S. defense has had a total of five straight shutout matches. Their latest came from Tuesday night’s matchup against top-ranked Germany, when the U.S. scored two goals in the second half to secure a spot in its fourth Women’s World Cup final.
A common phrase said about this team is that “you don’t want to play the U.S. team after a loss,” and this team is still playing after a devastating loss.
In 2011, the last World Cup, the U.S. team lost to Japan in the finals during penalty kicks. Irony? I think not. The devastating loss still echos in each game since then, and the players are not quick to forget it. Although they won the 2012 Olympics, the last four years have brought nothing but hardships for this team, despite a winning record. The departure of two coaches, injuries of key players and the neverending controversial struggle with Solo off the field.
Despite all of that, though, this team is the stronger team. It has three of the top forwards with Wambach, Morgan and Sydney Leroux. It has veteran captain Rampone who already knows what it takes to win a World Cup. It has the best defense in the tournament led by newcomer and rising star defender Julie Johnston, who has played every minute of the six tournament games. It has power and speed in the midfield with Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd and Lauren Holliday. Not to mention it has Hope — Solo that is — who is widely regarded as the best female goalkeeper in the world to ever play.
Could history repeat itself if Japan advances against England Wednesday night, or can the U.S. learn from its mistakes and make history as the only women’s team to wear three stars over its team crest representing three World Cup championships? While the 15ers may not be the new nickname, this team deserves to go down in history, despite a gold or not. It’s been 16 years since the American team has stood on top the podium with the golden trophy above their heads. Sixteen years without the title of “World Champions.”
“World” or not, this team is about as champion as they get, and this team has given America something to cheer about again in women’s sports.