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U.S. women building on 1999 team’s legacy

Brandi Chastaprovided signature moment 1999 Women’s World Cup when she tore off her jersey after converting winning penalty kick final

Brandi Chastain provided the signature moment of the 1999 Women’s World Cup when she tore off her jersey after converting the winning penalty kick in the final against China. | Anacleto Rapping~AP

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Updated: July 20, 2011 5:13PM

FRANKFURT, Germany —
Lauren Cheney was 11 years old
during the 1999 Women’s World Cup, watching from the stands and imagining what it would be like to be on the field with Mia Hamm,
Michelle Akers, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain.

Fast-forward a dozen years, and it’s Cheney’s turn in the spotlight. Somewhere, there’s another young girl watching.

‘‘She’s inspiring some 12- or 13-year-old girl, just like she was inspired,’’ Chastain said Thursday. ‘‘They’re continuing the legacy.’’

The 1999 Women’s World Cup was a watershed moment for women’s sports in the United States. The players were part of the first generation to reap the full benefits of Title IX, and they took it one step further by making it cool for girls to play sports.

They won, too, beating China in a penalty-kick shootout to give the United States its second consecutive Women’s World Cup trophy.

‘‘We showed where women’s athletics, women’s team sports, women’s soccer and soccer in general in America could go, and it was a tremendous event,’’ said Tony DiCicco, the coach of the 1999 team. ‘‘We didn’t realize totally what was happening outside the event. But it was life-changing. I think it was life-changing for a lot of people, including some of the athletes on the current team.’’

As magnificent as the team’s success was, though, it cast a long shadow on everyone who came after it. Every U.S. women’s team is compared to the 1999 squad, and nobody had come close to measuring up — until now, that is.

The United States will play Japan in the final Sunday with a chance to become the first country to win three Women’s World Cup titles.

‘‘I’d be tired of [the comparisons], too, if I was them,’’ said Foudy, who is covering the tournament for ESPN. ‘‘That’s all they’ve heard for 12 years. What you hear from all of them is, ‘We just want to forge our own identity,’ which you can understand.

‘‘Here’s a moment that the country can embrace this team and wrap their arms around this team. .  .  . They’ve given this country such a reason to love them.’’

Cheney, for one, said she is looking forward to putting a Hollywood ending on the story.

‘‘It’s cool we’ve completely written our own story,’’ she said. ‘‘Maybe we’re not the favorites. Maybe people doubted us. But we have pure hearts and determination, and we believe in each other so much.’’

And no one is prouder than the members of that 1999 team.

‘‘How could you not be proud of the way they fought and found a way against Brazil?’’ DiCicco asked,
referring to the quarterfinal victory in penalty kicks. ‘‘We think the team is in good hands.’’


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