The pioneers of a sport aren’t always heralded. They don’t always get the spotlight, but for the people that walk the path they carved, they’re always remembered. Many may not know who Sandi Gordon is, but to black women soccer players everywhere, she’s a hero.
Growing up in Washington, there weren’t many options for Gordon to play soccer. She didn’t play college soccer like others because the opportunities were so few. That didn’t stop her from playing the game. She played for the Tacoma Cozars while dreaming of more. Then, Kim Crabbe was called up to a camp for the United States Women’s National Team by then-head coach (and head coach of the North Carolina Tar Heels) Anson Dorrance, becoming the first black woman to be called into the USWNT. That call-up opened doors for many, and the first to burst through it was Gordon.
In a 2018 interview with U.S. Soccer, Sandi Gordon recalled that she was in the right place at the right time:
“In the mid-eighties, the path to the U.S. WNT was far different than it is now...My club team represented the West Region at the U.S. Amateur Cup in St. Louis in 1986, and then I played at the Olympic Sports Festival in Raleigh, N.C., in 1987. It was those opportunities that allowed me to be seen and I was called up by Anson Dorrance to take part in a U.S. National Team camp.”
In 1987, Dorrance called Sandi Gordon into camp with the USWNT, where 4 games were attached to the training camp against Norway (twice), Canada, and Sweden. Dorrance recalled his disbelief at the quality Gordon possessed when she made it to camp:
“When I saw Gordon, I couldn’t believe how good she was...This was prototype defensive presence. She had pace and courage, tenacity and competitive fire. She was a fabulous player and incredibly intimidating. We could have played her anywhere in the back, or any flank position for that matter, anywhere it required someone to play with heart. I absolutely loved her as player and she was a joy to coach.”
Her tenacity was rewarded, and on July 9, 1987, Anson Dorrance named Sandi Gordon in the starting lineup for the USWNT’s match against Sweden at defender. When she stepped onto the field and the whistle blew to start the game, history had been made. The 24-year-old Gordon became the first black woman to earn a cap for the USWNT, getting the start in a 2-1 loss. Gordon also started two days later, once again playing the full match in a 1-0 loss to Norway.
While Gordon called her first cap a “great feeling of accomplishment,” it was a moment that was bigger than that. She, along with Crabbe the year before, had burst through doors so that future black women could see there were opportunities for them to be on the national team. Gordon would go on to have 7 total caps with the USWNT, her final coming against France on July 29, 1988 in a friendly played in Italy.
The most successful women’s team in world history owes much of its success to the hard work that Sandi Gordon did to make it to the national team. In doing so, she became an inspiration to so many young women, and her legacy may not be one that’s offered first in the history books. Still, her story is one that all can learn from, and as Gordon mentioned in her 2018 interview with U.S. Soccer, “I hope the way I played was an inspiration to all young women across the spectrum and showed them that they can achieve any goal no matter what their background.” Her background is legend; her status is hero. That won’t ever change.
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.