The author is a forward for the NWSL’s Washington Spirit. A Connecticut native who starred at Penn State, she has also played for clubs in Finland, Brazil, Sweden, Denmark and Canada. She is editor of Our Game Magazine, co-founder of a Connecticut-based youth club called girlsCAN and blogs regularly on her personal website. This being a World Cup year, we’ve asked her to submit periodic columns this summer.
In his book, “The Last Lecture,” Randy Pausch wrote:
“Men first walked on the moon during the summer of 1969, when I was eight years old. I knew then that pretty much anything was possible. It was as if all of us, all over the world, had been given permission to dream big dreams.”
In 1994, the United States had an incredible opportunity, even though at the time most of the country didn’t know it. We hosted the FIFA World Cup, and a generation of little soccer-loving caterpillars were born. As we know, those caterpillars turned into MLS and men’s national team butterflies.
I watched as my then hero, Roberto Baggio, missed a penalty kick in the final, giving Brazil the trophy for the fourth time. I was certain I could take a better PK; that’s when I guess he stopped being my hero.
I watched the Brazilians celebrate in a way that I haven’t seen in any other sport or life event, dancing and singing and waving their flag. And I saw the Italians weep, as if mourning the loss of a loved one.
I watched in awe of feelings I wanted to experience at an event I wanted to participate in.
I wasn’t sure how exactly, but I was pretty sure I could play in a World Cup. Maybe for Italy. Maybe with Baggio. I was sure that I could be the first girl to play on a men’s team in a World Cup. Absolutely sure of it.
In late July 1999 at Disney’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando, the place where dreams come true, one of my best soccer memories took place. My club team won the U16 USYSA national championship. When I tell people that even today, they think it’s cool, because during that time, there was one champion for each age group in the country. We could say we were the best team in the country and it meant something.
A few weeks prior to that, there was another team that could say they were the best, but this time in the world.
On July 10, the United States beat China on penalty kicks in the Women’s World Cup final, with Brandi Chastain hitting home the winning shot and ripping her jersey off in front of a crowd of more than 90,000 at the Rose Bowl.
I was 15 years old when I saw Brandi celebrate the stamping of the United States as the best women’s team in the world. That was 16 years ago. The 1999 team gave a world of little girls permission to dream big dreams.
I know it sounds corny, but that summer did something amazing. It inspired us. And even more than that, it helped build a foundation to have something to be inspired about.
That team and those players gave us much more detailed dreams, something that was tangible, and so many of us wanted that. I went from dreaming about playing for Italy’s men’s team to wanting to play for the U.S. women’s team, which seemed more realistic the more I thought about it.
When you’re really young, dreams aren’t really dreams, they’re just something you’re going to do when you’re older. It’s not until we look back that we realize they were childhood dreams. The older I got, the more I realized how much those images were ingrained in my head and therefore shaped who I was.
I can’t believe I’m about to quote Taylor Swift, but a friend shared this quote from her: “I think the tiniest little thing can change the course of your day, which can change the course of your year, which can change who you are.”
I went from loving soccer and wanting to play all the time to needing to play all the time. I was so young and so driven and I didn’t know it at the time, but those two events were a major reason why. I saw what it looked like and I needed to have it.
I went from a regular kid to someone who found her passion in life. I wanted to hit the winning penalty kick in a World Cup final. I wanted to score goals and celebrate in front of thousands of fans. I wanted to experience the highest of highs. As a result, I was a good kid. I did well in school, didn’t get in trouble and was focused on one thing.
I didn’t get to see the landing on the moon in 1969. I guess I’m glad because then I would be kind of old writing this. But if I had, maybe I would have wanted to be an astronaut. Maybe as a kid I was just looking for something to catch my attention enough to drive me forward.
Maybe all kids are. Maybe people in general are.
The weird thing is that it doesn’t hit everyone the same way. I know lots of people who watched that final and didn’t go on to play professional soccer or even like soccer while they were playing.
It hit me the right way at the exact right time.
The thing about grand events, like the World Cup, the Olympics, the landing on the moon, is you never know who is watching and who will be inspired as a result. Cause and effect isn’t that clear-cut in this world.
If we’re open to the idea of being inspired, again at the risk of sounding corny to people who maybe don’t think things like that are possible, then big things can happen.
This summer the Women’s World Cup is taking place in Canada. All the games are on TV. All the players are fighting to make one of their dreams come true, and all of them have fought like hell to get to that point in their lives.
Someone, somewhere will be inspired. Whether it’s inspiration to play soccer and get to the World Cup, or inspiration to simply go after something you want in life, it’s showing the world that anything is possible.
I promise this will be the last quote. Three is probably one too many. The Grateful Dead for the win:
“Once in a while, you get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if you look at it right.”
So my advice for anyone this summer is to watch the games. Let yourself be moved and wowed and enthralled. Watch with others and see how it impacts them. Watch with kids and write down the event and how they reacted. It could change the course of their life if they see it right.