By Tim Nash
There should be a law. Or at least a mandate, something official, that says the U.S. Women’s National team has to play a game on the Fourth of July, or at least the Fourth of July weekend.
It’s the perfect occasion for a national team game. We are already feeling patriotic, we are already wearing something red, white and blue, families are planning to be together, we don’t have to go to work, we already have the fireworks, and we already plan to grill a bunch of meat and eat apple pie.
There should be a game.
Oddly enough, in the 31-year history of the U.S. Women’s national team, there have been just two games played on Independence Day. We can add five more of we include the entire the July 2 to July 5 timeframe, and there have been some great ones. Here they are in order using historical impact, drama and being just plain fun to watch as criteria.
1. July 5th, 2015, vs Japan, Vancouver, Canada
She says she was trying to act uninterested as she wandered around the top of the penalty area waiting or Megan Rapinoe to deliver the corner kick. If Carli Lloyd was able to convince Japanese defenders she was not interested in the ball Rapinoe was about to deliver, her performance was Oscar-worthy.
Rapinoe drove a low, hard ball into a gap between Japanese defenders. Lloyd flew to the ball. She timed it perfectly, redirecting it with her left foot for the shocking 1-0 lead just three minutes in. It was the fastest goal in ever in a World Cup, and the beginning of the greatest individual performance in World Cup history.
We know the rest, of course. Another Lloyd goal two minutes later, followed by Lauren Holliday in the 14th minute, then Lloyd again in the 16th, and Tobin Heath in the 54th, and the USA ended a 16-year wait for another World Cup championship and became the only country to win three Women’s World Cup titles.
2. July 4th, 1999, USA vs Brazil in Palo Alto, Calif.
A semifinal is the line that divides success and failure. It’s the game that either sends you to the final or puts you on a list with the other “almosts” that no one really remembers.
And in the 1999 World Cup, the difference between success and failure was enormous. If the USA did not make it to the final, if they stumbled out in the semis, what would the attendance be at the Rose Bowl for the final between Brazil and China? Certainly not, 90,000-plus. Would all the work the players did to promote their sport be forgotten? Would a new professional league launch on the coattails of a third- or fourth-place finish in ’99?
Crowds in the USA’s previous four games were astonishing, 76,000, 65,000, 50,000 and 54,000. It was by far the biggest sporting ever of the year, leading USA Today columnist Mike Lopresti to write before the semifinal: “I am not big on this sport, and never will be. But one need not be a meteorologist to notice a thunderstorm.”
At Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif, 76,489 showed up and watched Cindy Parlow head in a first half goal, and they watched nervously as Brazil’s Sissi, the tournament’s leading scorer, forced Briana Scurry to make three acrobatic saves. They watched as Michelle Akers barely flinched after getting her face raked with the bottom of Sissi’s cleat. Then they watched later as Akers drilled home a penalty kick to make it 2-0 and ease a whole lot of tension.
3. July 2, 2011 vs. Colombia, Sinsheim, Germany
This 2011 World Cup game wins the Most Patriotic Performance Award. It was the second game of group play for the USA, and a day earlier, the team held a training session on a U.S. military base in front of troops and their families in Heidelberg, a short drive from the stadium in Sinsheim.
The next day against Colombia, Heather O’Reilly scored perhaps the most impressive goal of her career, a 35-yard bullet in the 12th minute. To celebrate the goal, all 11 U.S. players lined up, stood at attention and saluted the pro-U.S. crowd and all the servicemen and women watching on T.V.
We’re lucky the game didn’t end 1-0 because we would be robbed of Megan Rapinoe celebrating her 50th-minute goal by picking up a sideline mic and singing “Born in the USA.”
4. July 4th, 1996, vs. Australia in Tampa, Fla.
In 1996, women’s soccer was played in the Olympics for the first time in history, and it was a big deal.
“For most of the world, the World Cup is the biggest thing in sports,” said Mia Hamm in
the new book It’s Not the Glory, the Remarkable First 30 Years of US Women’s Soccer. “For Americans, our big event is the Olympics. I remember hearing about Nadia Comeneci in ’76 and Mary Lou Retton and thinking that I wanted to be a part of that. I would have loved to just go and watch.”
The fact that the ’96 Games were going to be played in the United States and players’ friends and family didn’t have to travel halfway across the world to share in the experience, made it even better … and more nerve-wreaking. On top of that, there was talk of a professional league that could use the Olympics as a springboard, if, that is, attendance was good and the USA won the Gold.
Additionally, the 1999 World Cup was coming, and FIFA and US Soccer hadn’t decided whether to host it in small stadiums on the East Coast or coast to coast in the largest stadiums in the country. The Olympics would help decide. And, if that was not enough, the U.S. were still stinging after losing to Norway 13 months earlier and finishing third at the 1995 World Cup.
Tony DiCicco’s team had just 14 days until their 1996 Olympic opener against Denmark when the USA ventured from their residency training base in Orlando down to Tampa for an Independence Day match with Australia. DiCicco and assistants Lauren Gregg and April Heinrichs used the two games to use their entire 16 player roster.
The attendance that day in Tampa was 5,500, which was 20,000 less than what would show up at the Orange Bowl in Orlando for the USA’s first Olympic game, and 50,000 fewer than would be at the Gold Medal game in Athens, Ga.
The USA defeated the Aussies 2-1 in the 1996 Independence Day game. Eighteen-year-old Cindy Parlow scored the game-winner after subbing in for Tiffeny Milbrett, and Tisha Venturini scored the USA’s first goal.
Venturini, a four-time national champion at the University of North Carolina, scored three times in the ’95 World Cup from midfield, but had not scored a goal in two months before the July Fourth game against Australia. She went on to score in four straight games, including one 14 days later that made her the answer to trivia question, “Who was the first U.S. player to ever score a goal in the Olympics?”
· The U.S. played Canada twice on July 3. The first was in 2001 in Blaine, Minn., before a sold out crowd of 15,614, Cindy Parlow scored the game’s only goal. They played another July 3 game in 2004, this one in Nashville, Tenn. Defender Heather Mitts was the unlikely hero of the 1-0 U.S. win. Her goal that day accounted for half of her career total.
· The U.S. played Brazil 364 days after their 1999 semifinal encounter in Palo Alto. It was one of eight July games the U.S. played that year. Tiffeny Milbrett scored in a 1-0 win. Milbrett scored 15 goals in 2000, second most on the team behind Parlow’s 19.
Tim Nash is the author of “It’s Not the Glory, the Remarkable First 30 Years of US Women’s Soccer. For more of his articles and information about the book click here