Why The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Is The Most Dominant And Beloved Squad On And Off The Field
In 1971, there were just 700 girls registered to play high school soccer–as of 2014, that number jumped to almost 400,000. The spike can be somewhat attributed to the passing of Title IX in 1972, which mandated equal allocation of athletic funding for men and women. There is no question this gave women more of an opportunity to dive into athletics, increasing interest and competition throughout the country.
So, on a fundamental level, Title IX is what we point to when discussing the spike in female soccer players. The 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup, however, would be equally as pivotal in giving young women a dream to chase. After a devastating loss to Norway in the knockout stage of the 1995 FIFA World Cup, the U.S. Women’s National Team entered the ‘99 tournament hungrier than ever.
In a dramatic, yet scoreless championship match against China, the teams headed to penalty kicks. With goals tied at 4-a-piece, Brandi Chastain jogged to the 18-yard box after a miraculous save by goaltender Brianna Scurry, with a chance to win it for the U.S. What would come next would be arguably one of the most iconic images in sport–Brandi Chastain on her knees, jersey in hand, fists clenched to the sky, her teammates sprinting toward her, 90,000 fans in uproar around them.
The victory would put the U.S. Women’s National Team on the map–names like Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain, and Kristine Lilly would not just be known to soccer fanatics but to the world at large, and most importantly, to young female athletes.
While the 1999 team was inspiring the next generation of female soccer players, a handful of other countries were just beginning to entertain the idea of women’s soccer. Some countries had even banned it for a chunk of the 20th century, leaving young girls around the world without role models like Chastain, and giving the United States an opportunity to charge ahead.
While the 1999 team got the ball rolling, the succeeding U.S. Women’s National Teams have continued to push the pace. Not only has the U.S. since captured two more World Cup titles, but their personalities have made them the most beloved team in America. Meghan Rapinoe, Abby Wambach, and Alex Morgan, just to name a few, are dominant on the field and not afraid to speak their mind off it.
As advocates for equal pay and exposure, LGBTQ+ rights, Black Lives Matter, and many other social justice issues, they have captured the attention of millions of Americans–connecting with their fans in a way many professional athletes struggle to do. So, for nearly a quarter century, the women who have put on the red, white, and blue for U.S. soccer have dominated the pitch and the media, largely in part to the fearless women who came before them.