On July 10, 1999 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, the United States Women’s National soccer team beat China in a penalty shootout to win the Women’s World Cup. In jubilance, Brandi Chastain, who just kicked the game winning penalty kick, fell to the turf on her knees and peeled off her jersey.
That moment made Chastain an icon in the sport and brought women’s soccer to a whole new level.
Fast forward to today and there are a lot of positive things happening in women’s soccer. Chastain is still a part of it and she has her opinion on the state of the sport.
Chastain is one of the advisors for the Capital One Cup. The championship awards points to college athletic programs based on final standings of the Division I Championships and final official coaches polls for all sports. The men’s and women’s programs with the most points after the spring championships win the trophy and $200,000 to fund student-athlete graduate program scholarships.
“It allows sports like soccer, gymnastics and lacrosse to make a significant impression,” Chastain said. “It’s recognizing the importance of 13 women’s sports that don’t get headlines or show up on SportsCenter.”
So Chastain is headed to Cary, North Carolina this week to represent the Capital One Cup at the Women’s College Cup. The Final Four will feature Stanford against Boston College and Ohio State versus Notre Dame, and Chastain couldn’t be more excited for how the college game has grown and improved.
“Collegiate women’s soccer has gone from 75 Division I programs when I was in school to 322 Division I programs now,” she said. “Title IX has been a huge factor, giving girls the opportunity to participate. [The Women’s College Cup is] going to be great soccer. The state of soccer on the collegiate level is the best it’s ever been.”
A former Final Four player herself at Santa Clara University, Chastain is still involved in the college game, as she is a volunteer assistant coach at her alma mater. Her team did not make it as far as she would have liked, but Chastain is excited for what she thinks will be a very good championship weekend with some very talented teams and players.
“Having seen Stanford twice this year against Santa Clara, they are a very talented team,” she said. “They are a very talented team beyond the 11 that start. They will be difficult to beat.…They also have that 1-0 loss to North Carolina in the final last year as inspiration.”
Women’s soccer may be doing well at the college level, but once those players graduate the situation gets a bit murky for aspiring professionals.
In 2000, off the heels of the successful Women’s World Cup, the Women’s United Soccer Association began play as an eight-team professional league, the only such women’s league in the world to pay all of its players as professionals. That folded operations after three seasons.
Six years later, Women’s Professional Soccer began play. After the first season, three teams disbanded. The league will play a third season, but some are pessimistic about the league’s chances. Chastain remains hopeful.
“Things don’t start out as this grand thing,” she said. “The MLS has been a long time coming and they also had their uphill battle. The NFL didn’t start as the NFL as it is today. It started out in smaller stadiums.”
She said it is imperative that the league finds sponsors willing to invest in the sport and be patient with it while it grows through some growing pains, investing in the future of the sport and the dreams of young girls all over the country.
Those dreams may have started, thanks to Chastain and her teammates in 1999 on the National Team. And this summer in Germany, the newest installment of that squad will hope to keep those dreams churning as they will compete in the 2011 Women’s World Cup.
The team did have a difficult time qualifying, after an upset loss to Mexico put the country in jeopardy of not making the cut. However, a victory over Costa Rica and then an aggregate win over Italy in a home-and-home series got the U.S. in, and as the top-ranked team in the CONCACAF region, they drew a top seed and will play North Korea, Sweden and Colombia.
As an experienced player at that stage of the game, Chastain had some advice for the team: Take nothing for granted.
“I hope the players recognize it’s not a given,” she said. “Going to the World Cup is not something you can anticipate. You have to work hard, be dedicated and dedicate yourself like everything is a championship game. Maybe we got away from that.”
Still, like she is hopeful for the success of a women’s professional league, she is optimistic about the National team’s chances in June.
“I think the two games against Italy were not their two best games. The best is yet to come,” she said. “The National team has been about having a mentality that no matter what happens we’ll find a way to win.”
Chastain is excited for where women’s soccer is currently and she looks forward to seeing it continue to grow at all levels. She hopes that her work with the Capital One Cup can help in the development of not only the sport and exposure for the athletes, but in helping their education as well with the graduate-level scholarship funds.
“Capital One saw I was a big believer in collegiate sports,” she said. “We’re not all going pro, and that education makes a difference.”
For more information on the Capital One Cup and where your favorite school is in the standings, go to http://www.capitalonecup.com/, http://www.facebook.com/CapitalOneCup and @CapitalOneCup on Twitter.