There was a flash of light. Women screamed and winced in pain. The muggy heat was unbearable. The sound of Bruce Springsteen’s “Blinded By The Light” rang through Rentschler Field, and no…. it wasn’t the Boss. The song came from the mouths of Abby Wambach and Brandi Chastain of the U.S Womens’ Olympic Soccer team after they were blinded by a photographer’s flash. The team was posing for their official Olympic team photo and all the girls were smiling as Chastain and Wambach joked around. I couldn’t believe I was actually watching this scene.
When my Dad informed me that the U.S Women’s soccer team would be playing a pre-Olympic exhibition at Rentschler Stadium, in East Hartford, against China, I knew we had to be there. I needed something to get me motivated about my up coming soccer season at Wamogo High School. I have been sitting around all summer and I need to get in shape. I thought watching the women’s soccer team would be the shove towards working out that I need. I would have been excited to just see them play, but when my Dad said we could get press credentials, I got even more excited.
As it turned out we couldn’t get to the actual exhibition game, but we attended their closed practice inside Rentschler Stadium the day before. Besides the women, we were going to be about the only people in the stadium. When we climbed in the car and made our way to Hartford on a smoldering hot Saturday, I really didn’t know what to expect. We entered a door and went through a maze of hallways that dumped us out into soccer world. Dad and I made it onto the field with our press passes and it was a surreal experience for a young soccer player like myself. I was in soccer heaven.
We walked on the field and followed the girls over to where they were getting their pictures taken. I was excited and wanted to take my time getting across the field to soak in the atmosphere. This would be the closest I would ever come to being a professional athlete, so I definitely wanted to take it nice and slow. It was fun watching them during the team picture. It was like any normal high school team shot. Everyone wanted to take silly photos with tongues out and bunny ears. Many of them had their own cameras and were taking fun pictures of each other as keepsakes from this wonderful journey they have been on together. The oldest player on the team is Joy Fawcett, 36. The youngest player is Heather O’Reilly, 19.
Team captain Julie Foudy explained the only problem with the age difference is politics. “I try and get them to listen and read the A section of the newspaper,” she said. “But they only turn to entertainment and sports.” The veterans – there are five who have played together for more than a decade – have taken the challenge of introducing the new blood into the world of women’s soccer.
This team is a close knit group of extremely talented women. Every U.S Women’s team has had skill and talent but this year it’s different. It has youth, verve and most of all chemistry. Most teams in the past have only practiced together for about a month. The 2004 Olympic team has been living together and practicing together for 8 months. “When you talk about traveling 60 or 70 days together in January, February, March and living four months together in Los Angeles, you do bond together in a way you wouldn’t if you were in league play,” coach April Heinrichs was quoted as saying in a national newspaper article.
During the practice the women were making extraordinary shots into the goal. Mia Hamm, the star forward, kicked the ball and it whizzed over the goal and came towards our heads. Dad wanted me to move out of the way so I wouldn’t get hit. I said that if I did get hit, this would be the only time I wouldn’t mind. People would ask where I got that bruise and I would non shelantly reply “Oh it was from Mia Hamm kicking the ball at my face.”
When they kicked the ball it would slice through the air as fast as it could and then gently curve mid air into the corner of the goal. It was a science that they had all perfected over years of practice. My jaw dropped down to the ground. I was amazed at their ability to get the ball in the upper corners of the net from 40 yards away.
It was an incredible experience to see these athletes up close. I have seen them all play on TV and it was just amazing to actually see them in person. I was shocked to see the warm-ups they were doing. They were almost a carbon copy to what my girls’ team does at Wamogo High School in Litchfield.
It was a smoking hot day and I was dying of heat just sitting there. I shuddered to think that in a few weeks I’ll be starting preseason for soccer and I would be doing exactly what these women are doing right now (but definitely not as good). We asked Abby Wambach “A little toasty, huh?” She smiled and replied “Yeah, but we’ve gotta get used to it, it’ll be a lot worse in Athens.”
It was surreal for me to see the best women soccer players in the world just feet in front of me. One player that really blew my mind was Mia Hamm. She is one of the most famous female athletes of all time and is the leading scorer in international soccer history. I have watched a few key games that Hamm has played in and I have learned so much from the tough way she plays. She puts her whole body and soul into the game. While the whole team was having fun giving each other bunny ears and joking around during the picture, Mia was serious. She was focused on finishing the photo shoot and getting back to practice the game she loves.
I have heard so much about Mia Hamm over the past few years, from her marriage to former Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciapara, to her amazing talent on the soccer field. I was almost disappointed to see her act so serious while the rest of the team joked around, but I realized her focus and determination pays off every time she steps onto that field. Women’s soccer would not be the same without her.
Women have not always had equal opportunity in sports, or even in life for that matter. When the women’s soccer team erupted on the scene people weren’t all that interested because it was a women’s sport, they just thought they would be a mediocre team. The US Women’s soccer team proved them wrong. The women captured the world’s attention as they won the World Cup for the first time in 1999.
Unfortunately one of the things that caught everyone’s attention was Brandy Chastain’s celebration at the end of the game. She went to her knees and ripped off her shirt revealing her sports bra underneath, and screamed and whooped because they had just won. That picture will go down in sports history because it was an incredible moment. It was also plastered all over the place because she was a gorgeous woman half naked in front of the world. That’s what captured most men’s attention.
These women are incredible athletes and deserve the full support of the United States. Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett and Brandi Chastain have built the national team into one of the premier sports powers in the world. These women have played with each other for their whole professional careers.
I wanted to watch the players and Dad wanted me to prepare some questions to ask the players after the practice. He was poking and prodding at me and telling me some of the questions to ask. I got annoyed because I wanted to do it myself. I was nervous about the interview, but thought I could handle thinking of questions on my own. Dad has done this many times before with all sorts of people, so he knew that it was good to prepare. Right before Julie Foudy, the captain of the team, came over to me, I got nervous and thought I might not be able to pull this off. I was so grateful that I had prepared questions to rely on. I was afraid I couldn’t write down Julie Foudy’s answers fast enough, but there was a young woman standing over with us ( the only other reporter in the stadium) and she very nicely gave me a tape recorder and a blank tape. My hand was shaking at the beginning of the ten question interview.
Julie Foudy was fun and bubbly. Here are some of the questions and answers from the interview with the team Captain.
CM: How has sports changed for girls and women since you’ve been playing soccer?
Julie Foudy: Um…I’ve been playing a long time so I got to see it change. When we first started with this team I think people doubted that women’s soccer, and even women’s sports, could be done in this country. When we hosted a World Cup people said don’t do it in big stadiums because not enough people will come. I think we shattered a lot of the myths that were out there about women’s sports. And I think all the areas of the country have changed by allowing women to play. Title nine has been a big part of that.
CM: How do you feel about the women’s soccer league being shut down?
JF: It was heart-breaking. The league was great for us and it was great for all these young kids to watch and have something to aspire to. There’s only a small number that can make a national team, but you can have 150 in a league. Hopefully we’ll get it back and rolling again.
CM: I’m on a soccer team the last two years that’s 0-38-2. Do you have any advice for players on teams like this?
JF: (Laughs) Oh no…..I think it’s always a challenge. I was on a volleyball team that went 0-20 the year I played. It’s hard to keep saying, ‘just keep trying’, to find the fun, because it just gets depressing. I think you have to learn lessons from each game. And say ‘okay, let’s not say we lost again, let’s say we have to learn something from this and try our best to get better.’ Still enjoy it, but extract a lesson from each game.”
CM: What’s it like to be the captain of the greatest female players in the United States, and maybe the best in the world?
JF: It’s an easy job because I have all these great players and I’ve got a lot of other veterans on the team, which makes my job a lot easier.”
CM: What type of music do you listen to before a game that pumps you up?
JF: I like a totally random mix of everything. I’ll do Indigo girls to Jimmy Buffet to Rap.”
CM: What about the music from the Rocky movie?
JF: (Laughs) No…But we have some good 80’s. We have an 80’s mix that’s been circulating around the locker room. And that’s fun.
CM: Do you have any advice for young soccer players who aspire to be like you?
JF: I think the common denominator on the national team is two things. We love to play, we enjoy it. The second thing is that we are always working hard, there is always another level we can get to. We are always pushing each other, and ourselves, and are very disciplined.
When I was done interviewing Foudy I was very comfortable as a cub reporter. One of the team handlers came up and asked if I needed to speak to anyone else. The tall Abby Wambach was walking by at that moment and I just spit out “Can I grab her?”
The 24 year old Wambach, who is considered the next great American soccer player, towered over me as I asked her some questions. She was sweaty and smelly, but I would be too if I had been playing in 90 degree heat.
CM: What’s it like to be so young and play soccer with some of the greatest players in the world?
AW: You know it’s wonderful. I couldn’t imagine doing anything more fulfilling. Being able to play with those that have given so much back to this game and have put the game of soccer on the map in the United States. In a lot of ways they have become some of my closest friends. It’s amazing to maintain that kind of chemistry on and off the field.
CM: I’m on a soccer team the past two years that has been 0-38-2. Do you have any advice for us?
AW: Yes, score some goals. (Laughs)
CM: (Laughs) Well…besides that.
AW: I think there’s a lot to be said about team chemistry. Losing could really bond you, but I think it could tear you apart as well. Always make sure that you are staying on task, being involved in each others lives on and off the field.
CM: You mean like parties and hanging out?
AW: Yep, absolutely.
CM: Good luck in Athens.
I then turned my eye to Mia Hamm, who was finishing up signing autographs for some young kids 20 yards away. I ran after Mia as she started walking off the field. “Mia”, I yelled, “can you hold on a second?” She stopped and turned around. I just grabbed a piece of paper and got her to sign an autograph for my friend who is a huge soccer fan. She smiled and kept going. I was surprised that I had the guts to grab her.
Brandi Chastain was right behind me signing autographs. I got her to sign the same piece of paper. While she was doing that I asked her “Are you going to do that shirt thing again?” She smiled and said, “I hope I have reason to celebrate like that again.” It was a great answer. America hopes she has a reason to celebrate like that too.
When we were leaving I was thinking about my soccer team. We really are 0-38-2 the last two years, and it has been tough to make it through the season with a record like this. We have had to keep our heads held high, and help each other through the tough times. Losing isn’t easy, but over the last few years I have learned to deal with it.
Julie Foudy said to take a lesson away from each game and our team wasn’t doing that. It’s a good message in sports, and in life. You can take a lesson out of everything you do. I will be sure to relay the advice given to me by Abby Wambach and Julie Foudy to my team. Their words have definitely resonated in me and I hope it does the same for the girls on my team. Team chemistry is a big thing and I saw that the Olympic team is very close on the field. They are great friends.
Our team at Wamogo needs to bond more as a group, and meld together like a lump of clay. I wanted to ask these professional women their advice about our team because if anyone knew anything about winning a soccer game, it would be Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Abby Wambach.
Maybe we have a chance this year to break our winless streak. After watching the women’s soccer team I’m pumped up and ready for a new soccer season. Let’s wipe the slate clean and start all over again with a new season. I have a new outlook on soccer after seeing the women play. I’m just going to shrug my shoulders, not get so up tight about it and say: “Thank God I’m not in Athens.”