It can probably be assumed that if you are here to read about either the U.S. Women’s National Team or the Orlando Pride (or both), you’re most likely familiar with the story of the 1999 Women’s World Cup. The final game of the tournament saw the USWNT take on China for the title of World Cup champions. A scoreless draw led the match into extra time and, eventually, penalty kicks. After U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry made a fantastic save, Brandi Chastain stepped up to take her PK and then the following happened.
The successes of this particular USWNT squad, now lovingly known as the ’99ers, were heard around the world. Scurry, Chastain, Saskia Webber, Tracy Ducar, Christie Rampone, Carla Overbeck, Joy Fawcett, Kristine Lilly, Lorrie Fair, Tiffeny Milbrett, Sara Whalen, Michelle Akers, Tiffany Roberts, Shannon MacMillan, Kate Markgraf, Tisha Venturini-Hoch, Julie Foudy, Cindy Parlow, Danielle Fotopoulos, and the one and only Mia Hamm were led by the late Head Coach Tony DiCicco, and they all became household names for women and girls desperate for positive role models in the sports world. As a woman who was a not-so-young teenager — ugh — in 1999 and remembers the World Cup clearly, I can personally attest to the effect watching these women become heroines had on me and others like myself.
Fast-forward 20 years and the modern USWNT is preparing for the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France. It’s safe to say, however, that the influence of the ’99ers is present every single time today’s squad takes the pitch. Even the kits for this World Cup cycle are designed to be reminiscent of the kits worn back in 1999. In a March 2 match versus England as part of this year’s SheBelieves Cup, each USWNT player chose a woman who inspired them and wore her name on the back of their jersey.
Current keeper Adrianna Franch showed respect to Scurry, stating, “I picked Briana because I grew up watching her on the National Team and that’s who I wanted to be when I was a kid.” Midfielder Samantha Mewis proudly wore Hamm’s name, adding, “When I had to think about someone that inspired me, I felt that she was my most authentic answer because I’ve always been inspired by this team and the women that have been a part of it.”
Speaking of Hamm and as somewhat of a sidebar, it’s relatively inarguable that she is the greatest female soccer player of all time, and I would contend that she also leads the discussion for best all-around female athlete ever. Always humble, thoughtful, and well-spoken, Hamm may not agree, since she has constantly expressed gratitude to her teammates and those around her. In a 2014 Time interview, Hamm was asked about her awareness of being a role model during her playing days.
“I took every opportunity as a responsibility to not only help our sport grow but also to support female athletics. I felt it was important. And it was also a way for me to say thank you to all the people that invested in me and who, whether I knew them or not, made changes to compete at this level — whether it was playing in college and the birth of Title IX and making sure that not only did I have access to being able to play in college but I had access to an education.”
Orlando Pride and USWNT star forward Alex Morgan, herself a rapidly growing legend of the game having just notched career goal No. 101, is another current player quick to recognize the impact of the ’99ers.
“They had such an influence on me as a young girl and I’ll forever be grateful for what they did. Just the culture within the national team is a special one and that’s one that they were a huge part of. I think it’s important for us to continue to pass the torch and really instill in ourselves that next generation what the national team is about and how we carry ourselves and the mentality we have going into each big tournament.”
While the squad for this summer’s World Cup isn’t set in stone yet, it’s apparent that whoever Head Coach Jill Ellis selects to represent the Red, White & Blue will do so knowing the debt they owe the ’99ers. Last Sunday night, April 7, the USWNT played a friendly against Belgium at Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles, a location co-owned by none other than Hamm and home to Los Angeles FC — also co-owned by Hamm. During halftime, the ’99ers were honored and, like the official USWNT Twitter posted, all I can say is “99ers forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever”.
Don't mind us we're just tearing up 😭 pic.twitter.com/6XZ0r4Wlbu
— U.S. Soccer WNT (@USWNT) April 8, 2019