With one kick Brandi Chastain became a national hero. So did her sports bra. So did her abs. And the United States became world champions.
July 10, 1999 was the greatest day in U.S. soccer history.
Nearly 18 million people watched the American women win World Cup, and that was on top of the 90,185 who were at the Rose Bowl that afternoon. The tournament had become a phenomenon, capturing the country in a way that soccer had never done so before. There may have been big crowds to see Pele in the NASL, and the 1994 World Cup was massively successful, but this was unlike anything else. It drew the attention of everyone, from little boys and girls to the President Bill Clinton.
The momentum built throughout the tournament. It started with nearly 80,000 fans in New Jersey for the opener, then followed with a sellout crowd in Chicago and over 50,000 in Boston. The knockout stages saw 54,000 pile in to see the quarterfinals in Washington, D.C., then 73,000 take in the semifinals in Palo Alto.
Each match, the U.S. won. And with every win came more buzz. More TV coverage. More rabid fans.
The fans who showed up weren't just little girls. They weren't male-dominant and in their 20's. They were from everywhere and of all backgrounds. Fathers brought their daughters and mothers brought their sons. There were college kids and single people in their 30's.
The Women's World Cup, at least when the U.S. played, was an event. And Americans love events.
By the time the final came around, the country was all-in. The team was on the verge of being crowned the best in the world, and they had personalities that the nation had grown to love. Mia Hamm was the great goalscorer and the all-American girl and Julie Foudy was always talking, while Michelle Akers wouldn't just kick your ass, she'd enjoy doing it.
The only thing the U.S. and the tournament lacked was a defining moment.
Chastain gave it that moment. First, Kristine Lilly saved a ball off the line, then Briana Scurry made a penalty save, but then Chastain stepped to the spot. Over 90,000 people went quiet, 17.9 million more Americans watched on TV and then the ball hit the back of the net.
The crowd went wild. Chastain ripped her shirt off. The U.S. were champions of the world.
It has been 15 years to the day since the U.S. won their last World Cup. That American team captured the country and turned the entire nation to soccer. Now, there is no doubt that the men's team is bigger and more popular than the women, but that wasn't the case in 1999 and if it wasn't for that women's team, the door wouldn't have been open for the men to push the sport to its newfound heights.
One kick, one goal, one World Cup. And soccer in this country changed forever.
Happy 15th anniversary.