Monday, May 16, 2011

Brandi Chastain: "I would still love to be on the field if I could"

As the author of the last great memory in U.S. Women's World Cup history, Brandi Chastain has a unique perspective on the U.S.'s struggles at the Cup since that calm, clear day in Pasadena 11 years ago.

She sat down with NSC on Monday to talk about it.

"I hadn't thought about the fact that the U.S. hasn't won the World Cup since '99," Chastain told NSC, "and when I heard that I was like, 'Really?'"

It probably seems stranger to Chastain than anyone. Her famous penalty (and even more famous celebration) carried the Yanks past China in 1999, and the results since have been, well, lackluster. Third-place finishes in 2003 on home soil and again in 2007 are good for most countries, but the U.S. has understandably high expectations that typically aren't fulfilled without a gold medal in hand.

Even more puzzling is the Olympic success in between. Gold medals in 2004 and 2008 have thrown the Cup struggles into sharp relief. And as you've seen on this very site, the recent ACL injury to midfielder Lindsay Tarpley, who scored a goal against Brazil in the gold medal game in 2004, will sting. How much, exactly, will be determined at the Women's World Cup in Germany starting next month, which Chastain is calling for ESPN.

Note: calling from a broadcast booth, not pulling on her boots.

"I think I'll wear my cleats," Chastain joked. "Of course I (miss playing) because I wish I was out there. I'm jealous of them in a good way because I just know how exciting it is to be out there and what it means to represent your country. That's exciting for me."

Chastain is currently touring for the Capital One Cup, which you can connect with on Facebook, Twitter or on their website. The Cup aggregates performance in 13 men's and women's college sports and crowns an overall champ at the end of the school year. With the 2011 Women's World Cup coinciding neatly with the anniversary of Title IX, it seemed like as good a time as ever for Chastain to support the system that has expanded Division I women's soccer programs from 75 during Chastain's college years to more than 325 now.

"Working with Capital One for the Capital One Cup is for me a way to show the Joe general sports public that there are a lot of women out there playing sports," Chastain said. "For those who don't get a chance to either follow or have attention drawn to sports like women's lacrosse and rowing that are going on now in this season, I think it's a wonderful way. I love all of sports and I love college athletics too, and having grown up in the Title IX era and having a scholarship, I never would have been able to go to Santa Clara College without a scholarship."

That doesn't mean she's content with the system, though.

"I don't think as a competitor I'm ever satisfied with where I am and the state of women's sports," she said. "As a soccer player I still play on a team and I want to be better every time I play and I want women's sports to be the headline."

So what about the World Cup? Chastain is admittedly tough on her former team, a little like her father was on her as a coach in San Jose. As a former player of her caliber, that's certainly understandable. But a 2-0 win over Japan in a friendly last week was a nice indicator, and she sees the value in the team's depth behind Tarpley, which will be tested. She likened Tarpley's injury to losing Michelle Akers for spots in the 1995 Cup and again for good on the eve of the 2000 Olympics. Led by Abby Wambach this time around, Chastain sung a fairly optimistic tune.

"Players train every day to play," Chastain said. "That's their responsibility, to be ready when they're called on just as I was when I started my national career in 1991."

And as she readies to head off to Germany (the hosts have won two straight Cups), she can't help but get excited... and see a notable difference in her former role and her current one.

"You don't get as sweaty," she noted. "I'm passionate about soccer, and I would still love to be on the field if I could. But being able to share my experience and insight about the game... that will be fun to share."

- Will Parchman

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