Battle Of The Titans – 99ers vs 19ers
It is never easy to compare iconic teams in sports, especially across eras, but there are some interesting stats that MIGHT lead you to a conclusion. Today’s match up is a heavyweight one. The 1999 US Women’s World Cup winning team vs. the 2019 champions. Even experts can’t agree on this. In fact, in this article, six of them netted out 2-2-2 when predicted the final tally of a hypothetical super match. So soccery to have ties in there isn’t it? There has been a lot of banter about the relationship between the two teams and the respect showed by the 19ers for their idols so we don’t expect them to weigh in on this so we have lined up some facts here that may or may not sway you one way or another.
The 1999 team is forever remembered for the shootout at the end of the final in the Rose Bowl in front of 90,000+ fans but that was the culminating event of a remarkable tournament for the US Women. Let’s look at the numbers. The US opened group play in dominating fashion. Their opponents were Nigeria, North Korea and Denmark. Regardless, the US team blasted through undefeated and outscored their opponents 13-1. As we recall, North Korea fired a lot of short-distance shots that missed badly (oops). As you might expect, the knockout stage got a little more interesting. The US fell behind Germany in the quarterfinals when Brandi Chastain (yes that Brandi Chastain) scored an own goal. Imagine how things might have been for her if their dreams had ended there. The game went back and forth with the US evening the score shortly after before Germany took the lead just before the half. Guess who scored the equalizer in the second half? That’s right, it was Brandi Chastain. A stark reminder about sports success often requires both perseverance and good fortune along with the need to make the most of second chances. The US finally took the lead for good in the 66 th minute and set up an epic match up with perennial power, Brazil.
The semi-final in front of a huge audience at Stanford University proved to be one-sided. The US scored early and goalie, Briana Scurry made some incredible saves to keep Brazil off the board. In the 80th minute, hall-of-famer Mia Hamm sealed the deal with a strike. The finals brought US and China together on a hot day in LA. This game had huge implications for women’s sports in America but also geo- political implications. The relationship between the two countries was near an all-time low. There was more than patriotic pride on the line.
A quick review of Team China. They also blew through the Group stage outscoring Sweden, Australia and Ghana 12-2. In the quarterfinals, they dismantled Russia 2-0 before steamrolling Norway 5-0 in the semis. Entering the final, China hadn’t given up a goal since the group stage and they wouldn’t in the final either. The game was a true battle and superstar Kristine Lilly’s otherworldly save in extra time kept the dream alive. The shootout cemented the team’s legacy. While Brandi Chastain, who missed a penalty kick against China earlier in the year, now immortalized with a statue outside the Rose Bowl, all five US players converted their kicks. Consistent to the end.
Most of the players on the 2019 team were running around barefoot, if at all, when the 99ers captured the world. While their first-hand memories of that team may be fuzzy, their awareness of the significance of their deed certainly isn’t. By 19, the field had expanded to 24 teams, a sign of the advancement of women’s soccer globally. The US found themselves in a group with Sweden, Chili and Thailand. While they outscored their opponents 18-0, thirteen of those goals came in the opener against Thailand. Sweden, who placed second in the group would go on a run in the knockout stage and make it all the way to the semis where they lost 1-0 to the Netherlands.
The US faced quite a gauntlet in the knockout round starting with their match with Spain. Seemingly undeterred by the US juggernaut, Spain scored early on and the US was fortunate to escape with a 2-1 victory thanks to two penalty kicks by superstar Megan Rapinoe. The semi-finals proved to be a challenge unlike any other in the tournament as the US team faced host France, considered the team with the best chance against them before the World Cup started. The home crowd was in full lather when Rapinoe quieted them with strikes in the 5th and 65th minutes. France scored a goal late but too late to matter. Next up was another powerhouse, England and the US escaped with a 2-1 victory.
The final pitted the Americans against the Netherlands, another undefeated team that had entered the tournament ranked 8th in the world. Once again, the US rose to the occasion and shutout the Dutch 2-0 to seal their place in history.
There is no debate that these were two of the most dominant teams in history. The character of these amazing characters was demonstrated in so many ways. Neither dropped a game and both stood up to adversity and fierce competition and triumphed.
In a coincidental twist, the 99 team was honored with the statue unveiling on the same day as the 1999 team were feted with a ticker tape parade in NY. Their legacies continue to be intertwined in both large and small ways. Regardless of where you net out on the debate of which team was greater, hopefully, you will agree that they are forever linked by mutual respect and the awareness that that the table set by the 1999 team became a platform for the 2019 team to stand on to advance equality for women’s sports across the globe.