July 10, 1999.
A date all long-time fans of women’s soccer have memorized. I was 10 years old, on a family vacation. I sat in my grandparent’s kitchen in their mountain home, the gorgeous views of trees and lake unable to compete with the beauty I saw on screen in front of me. My grandparents could have cared less about soccer – tennis was more their speed – but they knew that I played. My father was starting to get into the sport as well, so there we both sat, glued to their tiny TV in the kitchen (probably so my Grandpa could watch something “worthwhile” on the good TV).
I would like to say that I remember more of the game itself, but 18 years and a lack of understanding of what was really going on at the time will take its toll. YouTube and documentaries have filled in the missing spots in the interim. But what I do remember is sitting in that kitchen, watching that TV, when it went to penalties and I first experienced the absolute agony of watching a penalty shootout progress.
The other thing I remember is being absolutely stunned when Briana Scurry saved China’s third PK. Watching it later as an adult, I laugh because the commentators had just talked about how female keepers weren’t athletic enough to save most shots. As a 10-year-old kid who was just starting to think about goalkeeping as a position I could be interested in, I was entranced.
I looked at my father and whispered, “do they usually save those?” He shook his head and we watched the rest of the shootout, hearts in our throats until Chastain put the final ball in the back of the net and catapulted the USWNT into American sports mythology. After the game, my dad told me something I’ve remembered for 17 years: “People will say that the girl who scored the last goal is the hero, but that goal wouldn’t have meant anything if the keeper hadn’t saved one before the last kicker ever stepped up to the spot.”
This scene was brought back to me with the announcement today that Briana Scurry has finally been inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame. I say finally because most of the other heroes of that tournament, and of the early years of the USWNT have already made it in. Overbeck, Fawcett, Chastain, MacMillan, and Lilly all preceded Scurry in getting on the list. They are all giants of the women’s game, to be sure. But as a former keeper and a lifelong fan of the game, it makes me extremely happy to see Scurry finally get her due.
The 1999 World Cup was certainly not her only heroic moment. She was the #1 for five major tournaments, helped found the first league in which women’s soccer players actually got paid to professionally play the game (even if WUSA was ill-fated), and inspired a short kid playing rec soccer in the Bay Area to check out a position that I had previously never considered.
So when you ask me who my hero was after the final whistle 18 years ago? I will answer Scurry 100% of the time. And she will deserve it 100% of the time.
Congratulations on your induction to history, Briana. Thanks for introducing me to the beauty of goalkeeping.