Introduction to the USWNT
The year 1991 may seem like a typical calendar year in the sports world at a glance. Duke defeated Kansas to win the NCCA D1 Men’s Basketball Tournament, the Chicago Bulls won their first of soon to be eight NBA Titles behind an MVP season from Michael Jordan, John Daily claimed the PGA Championship and The New York Football Giants claimed Super Bowl XXV by one point over the Buffalo Bills. However, twenty-eight years later, it is clear that it wasn’t Jordan’s MVP or Duke’s National Championship that has proven to be the most impactful on the world of sport. It was the 1991 Women’s World Cup in China that, to this day, has impacts that can be seen, particularly in the United Sates. Most sports fans around the world were unsure what to expect from the first ever Women’s World Cup. There was hardly a notable professional league in America that fans could identify with, let alone particular players from each team. Women’s soccer at the time had little media coverage on all outlets and struggled to spark a true level of fandom and interest. However, there were three nations that were head and shoulders ahead of the rest in terms of participation and skill level in the women’s game. The United Sates (U.S.), Sweden, and Norway. While soccer traditionally is a European sport, there seemed to be a great deal of excitement in the United Sates prior the World Cup in 1991. This stemmed from the brand new (WPSL) Women’s Professional Soccer League, and the growing popularity in the U.S. for youth girls’ soccer. Excitement only grew as the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT), breezed through group stage play at the start of the World Cup, defeating their opponents a combined 11 goals to 2. Their stellar play early in the tournament helped them have an advantageous, higher seed going into the knockout stage of the World Cup. In the quarter-finals they defeated Chinese Taipei an astounding 7-0. They followed that strong performance up with a comfortable 5-2 win over Germany.
The USWNT had now beat opponents, 23 to 4 through only five matches. Aside from the obvious success and general excitement about reaching the final, what was so significant about this? Americans, then and now are interested in being entertained. While attending modern day sporting events, the actual game is debatably the main attraction. From promotions, to half-time shows, to t-shirt guns, Americans are used to 24/7 entertainment. Most American’s consider soccer one of the more boring sporting events to go watch. In 1991, soccer games averaged 2.21 goals per game. The NFL averaged 30 points per game at that time. Nearly triple the scoring plays, the lower scoring was a turn off for American sports fans. In 1991, the USWNT was averaging a little over four goals per game, nearly double the average, heading into the tournament. The American’s were playing an exciting brand of soccer that left fans on the edge of their seats. This resonated strongly with American sports fans and enticed them to tune into games and the final in particular. While most of the tournament had been a cake walk for the USWNT, the final was another story. The Norwegian team they would face, had also been performing well and inspiring support from their respective country. The final, played on November 30th, 1991 at Tinahe Stadium in Guangzhou, China, attracted over 60,000 spectators, the most ever for a women’s soccer match. The USWNT, who had yet to trail at the World Cup so far, continued this trend by opening the scoring in the 20th minute with a goal by Michelle Anne Ankers, who would eventually go on to win the Golden Boot for the tournament’s top scorer. Nevertheless, things took a turn just nine minutes later when Norway leveled the scoring through Linda Medalen. The game was deadlocked until just two minutes remained. Anne Ankers, once again found the back of the net to give the USWNT the advantage and just minutes later the first ever World Cup. This win would not only set the stage for America to dominate women’s soccer for the next two decades, but provide opportunities for female athletes across the country at the youth, collegiate, and professional levels. Specifically, such events had a particular impact on the Trinity University soccer program in San Antonio, Texas.
The 1991 World Cup triumph for the United Sates, was one of many notables turning points for the game of soccer since the late 1970’s. Just three years after the women won the World Cup, America hosted the Men’s World Cup in 1994. Soon after, in 1999, the Women’s World Cup was also hosted in America, which saw the United Sates winning yet again, in front of a record crowd at the Rose Bowl in California. What effects did these events have on the culture of soccer and sport for females in the United States? Significant correlations seem to form when exploring the impacts that the United States National Teams had on soccer programs at various colleges and universities across the country and the opportunities provided for female athletes at those respective universities.