The date: July 10, 1999. The scene: A sold out Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. The United States and China have fought to a scoreless draw in the 1999 Women’s World Cup final, and after a scoreless set of extra time periods, the match would be decided by penalties. After both the USWNT and China both make their first two shots, Liu Ying steps up to take China’s 3rd shot. Standing between the pipes is one of the best goalkeepers in U.S. women’s soccer history, Briana Scurry. Ying steps up and takes the shot to Scurry’s left side, but Scurry is ready. After a quick step out and a hard step to the left, Briana Scurry punches the ball away. It was her biggest save, and it helped eventually propel the USWNT to victory and the 1999 Women’s World Cup.
Briana Scurry, a Minnesota native, is easily one of the best goalkeepers in women’s soccer history. She was a mainstay on the USWNT from 1994 until 2008, ending her career with 173 caps, at that time a record for goalkeepers (since passed by Hope Solo). Her career record: 159 starts, 133 wins, 12 losses, 14 draws, with 71 clean sheets.
Scurry became the starter at goalkeeper for the United States in 1994, soon after joining the team. She didn’t relinquish that role for 6 years, as she led the USWNT to a gold medal in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Still, her amazing performance in the 1999 World Cup is where she got her fame, and her heroics in the 1999 final are still talked about today even alongside Brandi Chastain’s famous goal celebration.
Briana Scurry always recognized that she had a greater responsibility to open the world of soccer to more African American girls. In a 1999 article with the Chicago Tribune, Scurry stated, “Soccer, being an ambassador and one of the ones out front, has deepened other parts of my life and given me a sense of responsibility...[the] friendships, the way we have to carry ourselves in public, being professional, that seeps over into how I deal with other things in my life.” As the only African American starter on the USWNT throughout the 1990s, Scurry knew that she was the face of soccer for black girls everywhere, and she played with that passion each time out.
After 1999, she was benched for the 2000 Olympics, serving as the backup. For most players, they would eventually fade out of the national team picture, never to be heard from again. Not Scurry. She fought her way back into the picture by performing well for the Atlanta Beat of the now-defunct Women’s United Soccer Association and she earned her starting spot back in 2002.
Briana Scurry’s accomplishments need their own book: 1989 high school All-American, 1993 National Collegiate Goalkeeper of the Year, 3-time Algarve Cup winner, 2-time CONCACAF Gold Cup winner, 2-time Olympic gold medalist, Women’s World Cup winner...the list goes on. In 2017, Briana Scurry became the first black woman ever to be inducted into the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame, and remains the only one in the Hall. It was a fitting tribute for a legendary, trailblazing career. She has also been immortalized in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in several areas, including a powerful Title IX exhibit.
Since her retirement from soccer in 2010, Scurry has advocated for awareness on the effects concussions and traumatic brain injuries have on athletes. She briefly served as a general manager of magicJack, a team in the now-defunct Women’s Professional Soccer, and she is currently an assistant coach on the Washington Spirit of the National Women’s Soccer League, continuing her quest to educate and train the next generation of goalkeepers in this country.
When you think of legendary women’s soccer players, Briana Scurry is one of the names you have to put on the list first. The way she played exuded excellence, and her excellence inspired a nation. Briana Scurry paved the way for future generations of African American talent on the USWNT, and for that we are forever grateful.