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U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL TEAM

July 20, 2009
EVERYTHING CHANGED
Chastain on the kick, celebration

By Charles Cuttone
Executive Editor, Soccer News Net

Brandi Chastain says everything changed after her World Cup winning penalty kick and celebration in 1999.
Brandi Chastain says everything changed after her World Cup winning penalty kick and celebration in 1999.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Any soccer fan who saw it certainly remembers it. Even those too young to have witnessed it know about it. It’s one of those events etched in the collective memory, Man Walking on the Moon, Hank Aaron’s 715th home run and Brandi Chastain’s penalty kick in the 1999 Women’s World Cup and, perhaps more indelibly etched, her shirt doffing, bra-baring celebration.

Certainly, even ten years later, Chastain remebers it better than most. “During the run of play in all of our games leading up to this point I would be the one who would take the penaty, so when we went to penalties and we’re on the side right after the second overtime, (Assistant Coach) Lauren Gregg came up to me and goes, you want to take a kick, I was like ‘what’ , yea of course,” she said during a recent interview while on the road with the Bay Area FC Gold Pride. “It just seemed like such an odd question to me. Shortly after that, Tony comes up to me and said, when you take this kick, you’re taking it left- footed.”

Though normally right-footed, Chastain said she understood DiCicco’s directive. “He was very wary that the Chinese had been scouting us, so he wanted to do things differently,” said Chastain.

“All I was thinking was, don’t look at the goalkeeper, because she had psyched me out earlier in the year, so that was the only thing that was going through my head. It was really quiet there for 90,000-plus people. And then when the whistle blew it was all slow motion. When I hit the ball it was all slow motion. Then when it hit the net, it all accelerated. The sound, the colors and the flashes, the celebration and the team was right there.”

After the kick and the celebration, things continued to accelerate. Covers on all four major national magazines -- Time, Newsweek, Sports Illlustrated and People. Appearances on Today and David Letterman. With it also came endorsements, personal appearances, and a chance tow rite a book It’s Not About the Bra.

Chastain didn’t know it at the time, but her world and women’s sports in general had just changed.

“I don’t think I woke up the next morning. I think we just stayed up. We flew to New York the next day,” she said. “I don’t think I slept for like years after that ‘99 kick. That’s how it felt.”

The kick that ended the World Cup was just the beginning, not the end, of a whirlwind that has left Chastain as visible as ever.

“Everything changed. I run a non-profit. We’ve played professional soccer twice now. I’ve had a son. That ‘99 kick opened doors that would have never been open before. Charity events working with celebrities, being on The Superstars, doing all those fun game shows like Jeopardy. Doing things on a personal level, but for good causes.”

Even the bra itself has become part of sports lore. For years it sat in Chastain’s dresser, occasionally getting used when needed. A couple of years ago it was sent to the now-shuttered Sports Museum of America in New York City for display. When the museum filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, the bra, like many of the building’s other artifacts, was basically held hostage. After a legal battle, it was returned, and is now framed and showing up at WPS games as part of the league’s 10th anniversarry celebration of the 1999 World Cup.

Chastain says that, along with the immediate exposure that came with the kick and celebration, was a change in attitude in general toward women’s sports. “We used to canvass neigborhoods, knock on doors and do clinics, give our time to whoever lent us the field to practice in whatever community we were in.

“That kick and that game and that tournament changed all of that. It made soccer more of a common sport, maybe more in the average joe sports fan’s vocabulary.”

For Chastain, who first played for the National Team in 1991, she says “It was a long time coming.”

Even with the almost nonstop pace of the past ten years, another World Cup and an Olympic Gold Medal, Chastain, who at 41 is the oldest player in Women’s Professional Soccer, has no plans to stop, even if her playing days are drawing to a close.
“I think about how the last ten years have been very busy and soccer has been popular,” she said. “I am always looking for ways to continue to make that true. That’s the challenege now, for this league that we have now.”

Off the field, she has been active with her foundation, the Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative, and has also started to rack up some impressive media credits. “Working for NBC for the Olympics, that was awesome. Working for ESPN on MLS games, that was fun.”

Though not a starter, Chastain has been putting her best forward for the Pride and the new league, yelling from the bench if not in the game (she even got a yellow card from that vantage point) and acting like an on-field coach when she’s on the pitch, directing players in some cases almost half her age.

But she has no immediate plans to stop, or to give up on the sport that has been part of her life since cheering the North American Soccer League’s San Jose Earthquakes as a child.

“I really don’t want to think about my days without soccer being part of it somehow.”
   
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