A Hero's Welcome

World Cup-winning U.S. women’s soccer team kicks off victory tour with a 3-0 win over Ireland at the Rose Bowl

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 8/8/2019

Fresh off their second World Cup win in a row (and fourth total), the U.S. women’s national soccer team defeated Ireland 3-0 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday. The game was the U.S. team’s first since the World Cup Final against the Netherlands on July 7 in Lyon, France, in which the United States beat the Netherlands 2-0.

A fireworks display inside the Rose Bowl welcomed the two teams. Forward Tobin Heath scored the first goal in the 16th minute by heading the ball into the net and midfielder Lindsay Horan scored the second goal in the 31st minute. Forward Carli Lloyd scored another header for the third goal in the 41st minute and received the Budweiser Woman of the Match award. Ireland was able to hold off the U.S. team in the second half.

Several times during the game, the crowd of 37,040 people broke into chants of “Equal pay! Equal pay!” in support of the U.S. women’s team’s “equal pay for equal work” lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, the body that governs the sport in the United States.

The match against Ireland kicked off a five-game victory tour for the U.S. team and was the fifth U.S. women’s game at the Rose Bowl, the first in 17 years and the third since the U.S. team won the groundbreaking 1999 Women’s World Cup. And it was the first time each of the current U.S. players actually played in the Rose Bowl. The remaining four games in the victory tour will see the U.S. team face off against Portugal on Aug. 29 in Philadelphia, PA, and Sept. 3 in St. Paul, MN, and against South Korea on Oct. 3 in Charlotte, NC, and Oct. 6 in Chicago, IL.

‘Full circle’

In the 1999 World Cup Final at the Rose Bowl, the U.S. women’s team tied with China, leading to nail-biting penalty kicks in front of a crowd of 90,185 people, the largest ever for a women’s sporting event. U.S. player Brandi Chastain scored the final goal to put the U.S. team over the top at 5-4, inspiring legions of young girls and boys playing soccer across the country, including the current U.S. team’s players, who were between four and 14 years old at the time. It was a watershed moment for women’s sports.

Playing in the same stadium as the 1999 team 20 years later “is extraordinary, a full circle moment,” midfielder Megan Rapinoe, 34, from Redding, CA, told the Pasadena Weekly before the U.S. team’s Friday practice at the Rose Bowl.

“We’re all in that age that we were inspired by that win,” she added. “To be able to come back here and celebrate a huge win that we had and connect the dots all the way through the program is very special.”

After scoring the winning penalty kick in 1999, Chastain slid onto her knees in triumph and ripped off her shirt, revealing her sports bra. It was a moment seen--and dissected--around the world, and the ensuing controversy highlighted the double standard facing female athletes.

On July 10, the 20th anniversary of that 1999 World Cup Final, the Rose Bowl Legacy Foundation installed a bronze statue of Chastain’s iconic moment, depicting her on her knees clutching her derobed jersey with a look of pure exultation on her face. The statue is located in front of the stadium’s main entrance, Gate A, near where countless youth soccer games take place, ensuring that the moment will continue to inspire new generations of soccer players. Chastain herself attended the statue’s unveiling ceremony.

“[This statue] is not just for one person, it’s for every little soccer player out there,” Chastain said at the unveiling. “I hope every player who puts on cleats has a moment like that.”

Players Lorrie Fair and Saskia Webber from the 1999 team were also at the unveiling and read off the names of their other teammates.

“The impact of the [1999] victory, to sports and to women, cannot be overstated,” Pasadena City Council member Margaret McAustin, who represents District 2, said at the unveiling.

Marla Messinger, who served as president and COO of the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup Organizing Committee, said the women of the 1999 team “redefined what it meant to be a female athlete. They were educated, articulate, beautiful and as unafraid to be as tough and competitive on the field as they were collegial and engaging off the field.”

‘Just what this country needs right now’

On Friday, one day before their game against Ireland, the U.S. women’s team held a practice session on the Rose Bowl’s Spieker Field and spoke about the legacy of the trailblazing 1999 team.

Jill Ellis, the U.S. team’s head coach, said Chastain’s iconic moment was the inspiration to play soccer for some of the current team’s players. Ellis announced on July 30 that she is retiring after five years and 103 wins. She will continue to coach the team through their victory tour, which ends Oct. 6, and she has been nominated for FIFA’s 2019 Best Women’s Coach award, which she also won in 2015. She is the first coach to win two Women’s World Cup titles, including last month in France and in 2015 in Canada.

“That moment [in 1999] was the catalyst of a movement in terms of suddenly taking this game to a level where it reaches a bigger audience, it touches more people, it attracts more investment,” said Ellis, 52. “It pushed us forward and upward. It was a touchstone to what came next. It’s fitting that we’re here. The Rose Bowl is pretty special. This is a great place to kick [our victory tour] off. Part of what this celebration is about is saying thank you to our fans.”

Forward Alex Morgan, 30, who grew up in Diamond Bar, CA, and played soccer at UC Berkeley, said her team was continuing the legacy started by the 1999 team.

“The ‘99ers had such a domino and lasting effect on both myself but also the future of women’s soccer in the United States and globally,” she said. “This team, the ‘19ers, is doing the same and continuing to uphold that legacy. but it definitely started with the ‘99ers right here [at the Rose Bowl].”

Morgan and Rapinoe did not play Saturday because of injuries.

“[The 1999] team laid the foundation for the mentality of all the teams after it,” said midfielder Rose Lavelle, 24. “That mentality and the legacy they left is what has carried this program through so much success. Being able to step on the same field as them when they won the World Cup is so cool and surreal.”

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti attended Friday’s practice and gave the championship team some words of encouragement.

“You’re just what this country needs right now,” he told them.

The U.S. women’s team didn’t just win the World Cup; they set several records along the way, including scoring the most goals in tournament history with 26 and the most goals in a single Women’s World Cup match and the largest margin of victory when they beat Thailand 13-0. The U.S. team has also won 12 consecutive World Cup matches, the longest winning streak in the tournament’s history.

On the same day as the unveiling of the Chastain statue, July 10, this year’s World Cup-winning U.S. women’s team received a ticker-tape parade in Manhattan to celebrate the team’s fourth World Cup win. Democratic presidential candidate and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio presented them with keys to the city.

Rapinoe, Morgan, Lavelle and midfielder Julie Ertz, 27, were all nominated for the 2019 Best FIFA Women’s Player award, along with eight other players from different countries. The winner will be announced at the Best FIFA Football Awards show on September 23 in Milan, Italy. Rapinoe also received the Golden Ball (World Cup MVP), Golden Boot (World Cup top scorer) and FIFA Player of the Match awards. Morgan won the Silver Boot as the second-leading scorer and Lavelle won the Bronze Ball as the third-best player in the tournament.

‘Doing what’s right’ on equal pay

Despite these accomplishments, the U.S. women’s national soccer team continues to make less money than the U.S. men’s national soccer team, which has not performed nearly as well as the women’s team. The men’s team didn’t even qualify for the 2018 World Cup, for instance, and they lost to Mexico in the Copa America tournament’s final game on the same day the women’s team won their World Cup Final, July 7.

In March, all 28 players on the U.S. women’s team filed a lawsuit against U.S. Soccer over allegations that the men’s team receives more in bonuses and game day pay, and that female players make as little as 38 percent of what male players make overall.

“We’re fighting here on the soccer level, but [the equal pay fight has] an even bigger scope, in the boardroom, in hospitals, in the teachers’ [lounge], it’s everywhere,” said Ellis. “At some point, it comes down to doing what’s right.”

On July 29, U.S. Soccer President Carlos Cordeiro released an open letter claiming the organization actually pays the women’s team more than the men even though the men’s team brings in more revenue than the women’s team. Yesterday, U.S. Soccer hired two Washington lobbying firms to push back against legislation requiring them to pay the women’s team as much as the men’s team. For their part, the men’s team has written public letters of support for the women’s team’s efforts.

“[Cordeiro’s letter] missed the whole point,” Rapinoe said. “It’s more about the potential earnings of each team, that’s what’s really unequal. We’ve won 85 percent of our games, so it’s more about the total compensation package. I’m not sure what the point was in him trying to say that, because it’s obviously not the point of what we’re fighting for. I’m looking forward to mediation.”

Rapinoe is also relishing her platform to serve as an antagonist to President Trump, who backtracked on his invitation for the championship women’s team to visit the White House after they won the World Cup.

“People are frustrated and fed up with all of the negativity and the cruelty coming from the [Trump] administration, not only just vulgar language but racist and sexist behavior,” Rapinoe said at the Rose Bowl.

She added that her message of unity for the country will “take really hard conversations and it’s going to be really awkward and difficult and it’s going to take a lot of work from every single person to do that, but my message is if you’re willing to come and have that hard conversation, that’s where the magic is and that’s where the real progress can be made. Absent that, we’re just going to keep fighting. I don’t think what’s happening right now is really working for anyone besides Donald Trump and a small percentage of people in the upper echelons of the 1 percent.”

U.S. hat trick

Looking ahead, the U.S. women’s team is preparing for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. And FIFA announced on July 31 that the number of participating countries in the 2023 Women’s World Cup will expand from 24 to 32, reflecting the growing popularity but also competitiveness of women’s soccer. FIFA will announce which country will host that tournament in May 2020.

The United States, which is hosting the men’s World Cup along with Mexico and Canada in 2026 and the Olympics in LA in 2028, is hoping to host the Women’s World Cup in 2027.