- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
The U.S. women's soccer team is now on top of the world
As fireworks lit the sky above Tianhe Stadium in Guangzhou, China, last Saturday night, the 18 members of the United States women's soccer team accepted their gold medals and bouquets of flowers and basked in the wild applause that greeted their victory in the first FIFA World Championship.
As they rode their team bus through another appreciative throng to the White Swan Hotel, the U.S. players hugged one another, shrieked and caressed the golden trophy they had just won. "When we started the team [six years ago], we never thought there would be a World Cup," said U.S. midfielder Julie Foudy. "It was always a mystical thing. And now we're holding it."
The U.S. seized the title before a crowd of 65,000 with a 2-1 triumph over Norway in a game that seemed destined for overtime. But with three minutes remaining, striker Michelle Akers-Stahl pounced on a weak back pass from Norway's Tina Svensson to goalie Reidun Seth, dribbled past the screaming Seth and, from six yards out, stroked a right-footed shot into the untended goal. From then on, the Americans went on the defensive to become the first U.S. world champions in soccer since the game was introduced 128 years ago in the (then 36) States. Of those last few minutes, U.S. coach Anson Dorrance said, "I felt like I was creating diamonds in my lower intestines from the pressure."
In propelling the U.S. into soccer history, the 5'10", 150-pound Akers-Stahl embodied the state of the art in the women's game. Despite being double- and triple-teamed during her two weeks in China, Akers-Stahl banged in a tournament-high 10 goals in six games, including both American goals in the final. Her first goal on Saturday, to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead, came on a brilliant header.
No less a figure than Pelé, her idol, sang Akers-Stahl's praises after the U.S. defeated Germany 5-2 in the semis on Nov. 27. "I like her because she is intelligent, has presence of mind and is often in the right position," said Pelé. "She's fantastic."
Like many of her teammates, Akers-Stahl, 25, began booting when soccer began booming in America in the mid-1970s (which is about when European women began playing their continent's favorite sport), and she has clung to the sport since then for love, if not money. She has undergone seven arthroscopic knee operations since '85, and she even had to leave her husband, former U.S. pro Roby Stahl, for three months to play in a Swedish league after their honeymoon last year.
This first generation of U.S. women players has forged a team that's foremost in the world; in their last three international competitions, the Americans have outscored their opponents 98-5. But then Dorrance knows about building dynasties. Two weeks ago his North Carolina women's team won its sixth straight NCAA title, despite the fact that he was in China along with two Tar Heel players. "U.S. teams traditionally have not been successful in the world arena," said Dorrance. "I hope what we've done will prove that we are a developing soccer nation."