When we think of the black pioneers of U.S. Soccer, there are two ladies who are in the history books for breaking through the color barrier for the United States Women’s National Team. In the case of Kim Crabbe, she didn’t even have to see the field to make a lasting impact.
When the USWNT was formed in 1985, Mike Ryan was the program’s first head coach. In 1986, North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Anson Dorrance, on his way to becoming probably the greatest soccer coach in this country’s history, was brought in to take over. While he coached North Carolina, Dorrance was scouring the country to find the great American talent that could form the player pool for the USWNT. On some occasions, he didn’t have to go far to find players who could make an impact on the program.
Kim Crabbe grew up in Reston, Virginia and went to play soccer as a forward for the George Mason Patriots. In the 1985 NCAA women’s soccer national championship, Crabbe and the Patriots beat Dorrance’s Tar Heels 2-0 to win just the 4th national title in women’s soccer history. Crabbe caught the eye of Dorrance, who recalled loving her game. “She was a versatile player in college, but we used her as an outside back on the National Team. She was vicious into the tackle and had tremendous pace,” Dorrance commented in a 2018 interview with U.S. Soccer.
Dorrance was convinced, and in 1986, just a few months after that national title match, Dorrance called up Kim Crabbe to a USWNT camp as a defender. She became the first black woman called into the USWNT. Kim Crabbe said at the time that she was thrilled to be a part of the national team but also “somewhat overwhelmed.” Still, Crabbe mentioned at the time that she “embraced this opportunity as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, no matter what the outcome were to be.”
Her presence was historic. At the time, Crabbe went into camp just trying to make an impression. However, her impact was one that will be felt for generations. While she did not become the first black player to earn a cap with the USWNT (that honor went to Sandi Gordon), she opened the door for women of color to live out their dreams as a part of the United States Women’s National Team. While many have gone on to play for the USWNT, Crabbe desires more representation:
“Personally, I’d love to see even more. It’s crucial to be able to see people who look like you in the media and out there making a difference and creating change and being influential....We’ve made great strides since I played in 1986. The sport has evolved in a positive direction and I’m very proud to have served as a pioneer within this beautiful game.”
Crabbe played with the national team from 1986-1988, but while she was with the team for several festivals and national cups, she never earned an official cap. Currently, she coaches soccer and does community outreach in Wilmington, North Carolina, still making an impact on the game from the local level. Her impact on black women aspiring to play for the USWNT will live on, and Kim Crabbe is living proof that trailblazers don’t always have to cut the whole path. They just get it started and inspire others to continue.
Recently, Kim Crabbe spoke about her career with the USWNT and her work in soccer on the For The Culture Podcast. Learn more about her career and the work she’s doing to give opportunities to children in Wilmington.
For more Black History Month stories, check out our Black History Month hub. We will be bringing a story each day this month to highlight some of the biggest moments in black American and world soccer history.