Sometimes a national team will have a game or tournament that defines who and what they are, where they become the best possible version of themselves. Think England in 1966, or Argentina in 1986, or Bulgaria in 1994. You hear the name of the team in casual conversation and the games, the memorable moments, immediately come to mind. For the United States Women’s team, that moment took place at the Rose Bowl in July, 1999. With the US poised to claim their third World Cup title this weekend, we look back at their epochal second title win.
It’s a little awkward to describe a game that ended 0-0 after 120 minutes and required a penalty shootout as “iconic.” Whether you’re a fan or an interested neutral, any appreciation of this game almost necessitates a sort of selective amnesia that covers everything except the shootout.
There are two moments that made this game definitive for the USWNT. The first was Briana Scurry leaping to meet Liu Ying’s shot and punch it away from her goal. The second, and the one that USWNT and women’s soccer fans talk about to this day, was Brandi Chastain’s winning shot.
In some ways it’s hard to empathize with professional athletes, especially those who are involved in such charged and memorable moments. We can talk about what it was like to watch it, and what it meant to us, and we can even speculate on what was going through their head. But few, if any of us, will ever be in the position that Brandi Chastain was in. Her shoulders bore not only only the hopes and fears of millions of fans that so often gets bundled up into big sports moments, but also the very future of the women’s game, particularly in America. And when her shot went in, when she tore off her shirt and roared to the sky as if demanding the second star descend and embed itself above the US Soccer crest, the air swirled with joy and relief and vindication.
This Sunday, the USWNT will once again chase their third star when they take on Japan in the Final, a rematch of the 2011 title decider. Kickoff is at 7pm EST, with US coverage on Fox. We should be so lucky to have another moment like this one.