We’ve waited our entire lives for this moment – the first Women’s World Cup to be held on American soil – and we wanted to set a standard, a benchmark that every World Cup should follow. We wanted big stadiums, a nationwide presence, big crowds and a lot of excitement. The only question mark was somehow important: can we fill the big stadiums? Of course, the players immediately went “oh damn yes” and a year in advance we had already set our goals. We go out, do autograph sessions, take classes, perform and do every kind of event to get publicity and awareness for our World Cup trip.
Cut to Nike headquarters in Portland, Oregon. Nike hosts the opening ceremony for its newest and largest building on its campus. The whole team was invited because the building had a special dedication… It was the Mia Hamm building. Which was a little ironic considering that if you were looking for Mia, the last place you would find her in the limelight was. Nonetheless, we were all over the moon to celebrate our star teammate in such a unique moment. Knowing how much she “loved” the attention, we captioned every item in our hotel: The Mia Hamm Pillow, The Mia Hamm Door. You get the gist.
When Mia entered the hotel and saw our handwork, she just shook her head and giggled.
That was our US team. Equal parts intense and batty—silly. If the USWNT was a drink, I’d say: mix one part fully committed with one part ridiculous and add a dash of evil. When you understand that about us, you begin to understand that our journey wasn’t just about the hardware. Yes, awards are more than welcome as teams are usually measured by medals and championships. Legacies are often associated with titles. And we collected quite a lot. This US women’s team has won four world championships and four Olympic gold medals throughout its history, which dates back to the 1980s, for a total of eight world titles. That’s more than twice as many as in the nearest country, Germany (but who’s counting?). So please don’t get me wrong – we love bling and winning has always been this team’s goal. It just never took center stage.
For generations, the focus has been on raising a family, competing, having fun, making our country proud and, just as important, thinking beyond sport. The formula is actually pretty simple. Create and maintain a culture that values this Wethe sisterhood and the possible, considering the podium not only as a place to celebrate, but also as a platform from which to shout out to the world to up their game.
And we did. We’ve never had a shortage of vivacious women with great vocal cords willing to put them to use. Perhaps this should have been clear long ago when the first USWNTs to travel abroad gave their pre-game cheers, straight from the heart: OOSA OOSA OOSA UHHHHHH. According to legend, fans in Jesolo, Italy, said the name of our country, which they saw on the jerseys and the scoreboard. The US players thought it was cool and made it their own. What began with that original team can still, fittingly, be heard in the pregame duel of every USWNT game to this day.
Ahhh, the ’80s, when the US national team was formed, a glorious era with its wonderfully edgy trappings: big hair, mullet (Mia “Shop in the front, party in the back” Hamm), hair ties (Carla Overbeck was the queen). of these), Flashdance off the shoulder sweatshirts with a sports bra (I’m looking at you, Brandi Chastain), VHS tapes for watching movies, Kristine Lilly’s yellow Sony Walkman cassette player, which I thought was maybe the coolest thing I’d ever seen. We were just a bunch of kids (literally: Mia was 15, I was 16 and Kristine Lilly was 16), incredibly grateful to be playing for our country and completely clueless as to what that meant. In the 1980s there were no World Cups or Olympic Games for women’s football, although there have been men’s football since the 1900 Olympics and the 1930 World Cup. Why do you ask? Because we’ve been told that’s not what women do. Also, people won’t come to see you play.
Well, as you can imagine, that didn’t sit well with this group of women. The USWNT players believe that women’s football is important to people. just watch
There was enough shouting from so many players and women’s football advocates for FIFA to be able to say: OK, OK, we’ll give you your World Cup, we’re just not sure yet if we’re going to call it a World Cup. Hence the title: The M&M Mars Cup (wish I was kidding). It was scheduled to take place in China in the fall of 1991, and I remember saying to my parents, “Mom! Father! You won’t believe it, we’re finally going to be at a Women’s World Cup for the first time, and it’s in China.” Now mind you, my parents were incredibly supportive of my football career but weren’t exactly familiar with the sacred history of the game. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised by my father’s reaction to the groundbreaking news: “Oh Julie, I’m not sure I can make it because this is a very busy time for me professionally.”
“Dad, this is kind of a big deal,” I explained. “World championships only take place every four years. I may never make it to anyone else. And this is the first ever for women. And you’ll be there, Dad.” I always giggle out loud when I think about that exchange. Imagine if a parent of one of today’s gamers said, “Sorry honey I don’t think I can make this World Cup and what the heck is a World Cup anyway?”
That’s just to show you how much this game has grown here in the US (or maybe how unaware my folks have been). A part of me longs for the beginnings of play and the simplicity of it all. I remember as a little girl I never took off my football boots after games. I wore them everywhere until the studs were just stubs. I don’t know exactly which day I fell under the spell of football, but the smell of freshly mown grass, the laughter of a group of amazing girls and the freedom to play against each other without judgement, captivated me from the first kick-off. We just played because it made our hearts happy and it felt good. And that spell was strong and beautiful. I’ve either played, broadcast, taught, or admired the game my entire life.
But back to my people. To be fair to Slim Jim and Fruity Judy, we never had role models in women’s football back then. We also didn’t have national teams or World Cups or Olympics to present. As my friend and mentor Billie Jean King once said to me, “We were the first generation in tennis, you are all the first generation in football.” The first generations set all the standards and the culture.”
“They go through all that crap too,” I added, laughing. “But it’s the s- that makes you great.” I really think so. Perspective, the gift that keeps giving. What I was not aware of is that future generations will also have to overcome hurdles.
Whether it was about equal treatment in the ’90s or the more recent fight for equal pay in this current team, we still holler when we’re at the top of the podium. Our goal is twofold: to leave sport in a better place for the next generation and to be an inspiration to all who strive for equal rights. That was an important lesson that I also learned from Billie Jean King when she said to me when I first met her in the early 90s and we were talking about the lack of support for women’s football: ‘Foudy what are you doing as players?” It? Speak up. Stand up. You have the power.” You’re damn right, we do. And we’ve made it our mission for generations to come to understand that too. I’d say mission accomplished! This current group, as we all know, has the Taken the baton and didn’t stop sprinting until she reached the historic legal settlement in which US Soccer pledged equal compensation to its men’s and women’s teams going forward.
And that sums up everything I love and appreciate about this USWNT, year after year, decade after decade. We care a lot… about each other, about the game, about society, about being both inspirational and ambitious. The USWNT has spent its entire history making courage contagious. I couldn’t be prouder to be part of this amazing sisterhood. Okay, here we go, before our next adventure… give it a go now, from the bottom of your heart, everyone: OOSA OOSA OOSA UHHHH.
Julie Foudy is a graduate of Mission Viejo High and a former Times high school player of the year who went on to win two world championships and two Olympic gold medals. This paper is reprinted with permission from Pride of a Nation: A Celebration of the United States Women’s National Soccer Team. Text copyright © 2022 David Hirshey, Rob Fleder and Roger Director. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.