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