Freedom wins first
Washington downs Bay Area in WUSA opener
Updated: Sunday April 15, 2001 1:49 PM
WASHINGTON (AP) -- It was hard to tell why Brandi Chastain was crying. There were too many reasons, good and bad.
The heroine of the 1999 World Cup had just played the inaugural game of the first major women's professional soccer league in the United States -- and 34,148 fans had come to watch.
But Chastain was also called for the foul that decided a 1-0 game as her Bay Area CyberRays fell to the Washington Freedom.
Defending her U.S. national teammate Mia Hamm one-on-one, Chastain went for the ball and made the tackle. Hamm went down. The referee called it a penalty. Chastain flailed her arms in disbelief.
Brazilian star Pretinha made the penalty kick, the first and only goal in Saturday's first game of the Women's United Soccer Association.
"Is now the time to be politically correct since I'm in the nation's capital?" Chastain said. "My emotions go both ways. The referee is the person who ultimately makes the call. And unfortunately today, the call went against me, and there's nothing I can do to change that. I felt very strongly that it wasn't the call that I would have made.
"It's hard to stand up here in defeat, but it doesn't change the pride I have in my heart."
The last thing a new soccer league in the United States needs is a scoreless tie in its first game, so the goal was a big one for the WUSA's officials and investors.
"I'm glad there was a winner in the game," said former U.S. national team coach Tony DiCicco, the league's chief operations officer.
Still, the league had a good start in capturing the spirit of the World Cup. The difference from two years ago is that it's no longer Mia and Brandi together playing for their country. It's Mia vs. Brandi, and that's the way the game was billed on the posters.
Even so, this was such a tough way to start a rivalry.
"I beat Brandi on the inside and I cut it back. It's not my judgment to say 'It's a foul, it's not a foul.' That's why we have a referee," Hamm said. "After the game, I walked up to her and said sorry it had to be decided like that."
The crowd was dominated by soccer moms and dads and screaming kids by the thousands, and the walk-up crowd was so large that the ticket booths were overwhelmed. Some fans didn't get in until close to halftime.
Otherwise, it was an afternoon full of pageantry and symbolism as women's sports celebrated another landmark.
Former tennis great Billie Jean King presided over the official coin toss. A female parachutist landed on the field with the ball. 1999 World Cup star Michelle Akers, who can't play this season because of injuries, made the ceremonial first kick wearing a sling on her shoulder.
Other heroes from the World Cup, who have been scattered among the league's eight teams, were introduced one by one, and -- in the most stirring stunt of all -- a bald eagle soared into the stadium at the last note of the national anthem.
Among the fans was Boomer Brown, who made the trip from Raleigh, N.C., with his wife and two daughters, proud that his soccer-playing girls have female role models in sports.
"It's great for their self-esteem that they can come and see this," Brown said.
The crowd was a ball of energy waiting to burst, but they had to wait through an hour of sometimes ragged soccer as two new teams struggled with timing and chemistry. The Freedom didn't get a shot on goal in the first half as Hamm made little impact playing next to Brazilians Pretinha and Roseli.
"In the first half, I don't think we saw enough attacking soccer," DiCicco said. "The second half was lively."
Chastain and another Brazilian, Sissi, were more active for the CyberRays. Chastain was called for a yellow card for rough tackle on Roseli in the 55th minute, a foul that would have drawn a red card in a men's game.
The crowd roared when Hamm put a header on top of the net in the 59th, but the shot wasn't that close. Sissi was stopped by a brilliant sliding save by Freedom goalkeeper Siri Mullinix in the 66th.
The goal came in the 70th. After Chastain's foul, Pretinha slid the penalty kick inside the left post and celebrated by pulling her blue jersey above her head.
The CyberRays nearly tied the game several times. Sissi's free kick hit the left post in the 72nd, and Katia put one onto the crossbar before Mullinix brought it down in the 76th.
Former U.S. national team player Tisha Venturini hurt a wrist in the first half when she was fouled by Washington's Lindsey Stoecker. Officials originally said the wrist was broken but later said it could be dislocated.
But Venturini's injury, the ticket problems -- and even Chastain's questionable foul -- didn't deter from the day's historic feel.
"I walked out onto that field very tall and very happy," Chastain said. "It was a great day for soccer."