1999 team re­mains in class by it­self

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY AARON DOD­SON

For­mer Univer­sity of Vir­ginia soc­cer player Ju­lia Roberts was on a tread­mill a few days ago when she be­gan watch­ing “The 99ers,” an ESPN doc­u­men­tary track­ing the United States’s mag­i­cal run to win the 1999Women’s World Cup.

Roberts re­called the ex­cite­ment sur­round­ing that World Cup, which was played in the United States when she was 8 years old.

For the fi­nal match be­tween the United States and China, Roberts went with her par­ents to a Bethesda res­tau­rant. The name of the place es­capes her, but she does re­mem­ber wear­ing her USA jersey and her face cov­ered in red, white and blue paint.

Roberts also can’t for­get the cel­e­bra­tion that erupted fol­low­ing the Amer­i­cans’ vic­tory on penalty kicks.

“It was crazy. I re­mem­ber just the whole res­tau­rant, peo­ple who didn’t even come to watch the game, were get­ting in­volved,” said Roberts, 24, a for­mer midfielder for the Washington Spirit of the pro­fes­sional Na­tional Women’s Soc­cer League. “I re­mem­ber out in the streets peo­ple were cel­e­brat­ing how big of a deal that it was that we had just won the World Cup. I re­mem­ber be­ing ex­cited but think­ing how sur­prised I was to see that ev­ery­one else was ex­cited.”

The 1999 World Cup of­ten is re­garded as the peak of women’s soc­cer in the United States, the sup­port for the na­tional team un­matched since. But some who wit­nessed the magic as lit­tle girls

in 1999 feel the fol­low­ing re­mains alive and well among the younger gen­er­a­tion of ath­letes watch­ing Team USA chase the 2015 World Cup in Canada.

On Fri­day night in Ot­tawa, the Amer­i­cans ad­vanced to the tour­na­ment’s semi­fi­nals with a 1- 0 vic­tory over China, their old ri­val from 1999.

Lead­ing up to the fi­nal match 16 years ago, which was played at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., be­fore more than 90,000 peo­ple, Roberts at­tended a group stage game be­tween Brazil and Ger­many at Jack Kent Cooke Sta­dium, now FedEx Field, in Lan­dover.

Also there that day was fu­ture Univer­sity of Mary­land de­fender Kayla Clarke, who missed few World Cup games that sum­mer, es­pe­cially when the Amer­i­cans played.

“We would have team view­ing par­ties,” Clarke said. “I think some of them were at my house. The whole team would come over, we would watch them on TV and try to talk about, ‘Oh, what are they do­ing that’s good? What are they do­ing that’s good?’ Keep in mind, we were 7 years old, but we thought we were hot shots.

“I mean, I rocked my U.S. jersey prob­a­bly for like that whole year.”

For Caro­line Miller, a stand­out at Wal­ter John­son High and Roberts’s team­mate at U-Va. from 2009 to 2012, noth­ing beats the mem­ory of Brandi Chas­tain’s iconic cel­e­bra­tion af­ter she con­nected on the gamewin­ning penalty kick to win the ti­tle.

“Brandi Chas­tain tak­ing her shirt off. That will for­ever be what comes to mind when I think of the ’99 World Cup,” Miller said. “I think for me, like for ev­ery other young girl at the time, that team made it the dream: to be on that team, to play on that level, and to one day be in that sit­u­a­tion.”

Holly King, a midfielder for the Colorado Pride of the de­vel­op­men­tal W-League and the head coach of the Her­itage High girls’ var­sity soc­cer team in Lees­burg, said her play­ers have tuned in to ev­ery U.S. match.

“If any­thing, I would prob­a­bly say that more peo­ple are watch­ing this World Cup than the 1999World Cup just be­cause I do think the sport has grown in pop­u­lar­ity since then,” said Clarke, a fifth-grade teacher at Trav­i­lah Ele­men­tary in Mont­gomery County.

She’s par­tially right. The United States’s 1- 0 win over Nige­ria in its fi­nal group match on June 16 yielded the third­largest au­di­ence all time for a Women’s World Cup match, draw­ing an av­er­age of 5 mil­lion view­ers.

With nearly 18 mil­lion view­ers, the 1999 World Cup fi­nal holds the record. Sec­ond on the list with 13.5 mil­lion view­ers is the fi­nal of the 2011 World Cup in Ger­many.

At the time, that game, which the United States lost to Ja­pan in penalty kicks af­ter a 2-2 draw in reg­u­la­tion, set a Twit­ter record with 7,196 tweets per sec­ond.

“I think the 1999 team sparked the move­ment to want to watch the games, to want to be there,” Miller said. “I feel like even more kids these days are watch­ing and dream­ing of be­ing like Alex Mor­gan now. A lot of it has to do with so­cial media and how easily all this stuff is ac­ces­si­ble to these kids.”

As the U.S. women seek their first World Cup ti­tle since 1999, Roberts — who works as an ad­min­is­tra­tor in the youth de­vel­op­ment pro­gram for Ma­jor League Soc­cer’s Seat­tle Sounders— can’t help but let her mind wan­der to Michelle Ak­ers, Mia Hamm, Chas­tain and the rest of the 99ers.

She knows there will prob­a­bly never be another 1999 but has faith that this year’s team can be pretty darn close.

“The ’99 team was just a re­ally unique group of in­di­vid­u­als that just wanted to win no mat­ter what. They wanted to win for each other, and they re­ally bonded to­gether,” she said.

“I think there’s just times when you have re­ally spe­cial teams like that and it’s hard to repli­cate. But I think, for sure, this team right now can def­i­nitely do it.”

CHRIS ROUSSAKIS/EURO­PEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Much like 1999, at­ten­dance has been strong for the U.S. women’s team in the 2015 tour­na­ment.

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