The Barnes & Noble Review
The 1999 U.S. Women's World Cup soccer victory over China was an instant classic. Ninety thousand screaming fans at the Rose Bowl and an additional 40 million TV viewers witnessed the dramatic shootout. In The Girls of Summer, New York Times soccer correspondent Jere Longman offers an in-depth look at the team whose victory was a watershed event for women's sports.
The team was a long time in the making. Mia Hamm was three months old when Title IX was signed into law on June 23, 1972. As Mia grew out of her diapers, high school girls and college women, bolstered by the mandate that women's and men's collegiate sports receive equal financial support, flocked to the soccer fields.
In 1986 North Carolina head coach Anson Dorrance took over the fledgling U.S. Women's National team. He added the 15-year-old Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett, Carla Overbeck, and Brandi Chastain to a roster that included the indomitable Michelle Akers. With his core players assembled, Dorrance instilled the winning attitude the team would become famous for: "When you cross the line of the field, I'm going to cut you in half to get that ball. Off the field, we take care of each other as family. If you are carrying three bags from the bus terminal to the airport, I'm going to grab two bags off your shoulders and carry them myself, even though that welt in back of your thigh is my cleat mark."
To little fanfare and with little financial backing, the team won the inaugural women's World Cup, held in China in 1991. Tony DiCicco replaced Dorrance as coach of the National Team in '94. In the '95 World Cup in Sweden, the women suffered a disappointing 10 loss to Norway, a loss that turned humiliating when the Norwegians choo-chooed around midfield on their hands and knees in celebration after the game.
By the mid-'90s women's sports had reached "a critical mass of public and corporate interest." Most support for the women's soccer team, though, came from the grassroots level. Only after the women repeatedly sold out large stadiums across the United States did corporate sponsors and the media take the event seriously.
As the 1999 World Cup approached, the women shouldered the expectations of winning at home and of elevating the status of the game. In addition, the U.S. women faced potentially divisive internal issues. One such issue was Debbie Keller's sexual harassment lawsuit against Dorrance and her subsequent exclusion from training camp. Another was the role of sexuality in general. Teammates disagreed about whether attention on the team's physical attractiveness was patronizing or complimentary. The team steadfastly downplayed their differences, though, to focus on the goal at hand: winning the World Cup.
And win they did! The Girls of Summer recaptures the action of the tournament with descriptions of the games and the players that are both imaginative and insightful. During the final, China's defenders converged on the ball "like white blood cells fighting off infection." Comparing Joy Fawcett to Michelle Akers, Coach Tony DiCicco said, "Joy picks your pocket while Akers hits you so everything falls out of your pocket." A stirring subplot to the drama is the story of the Chinese women, whose love for soccer made them rebellious youths rather than high school heroes.
In The Girls of Summer Longman compares the 1999 World Cup victory with the USA men's hockey team triumph in the 1980 Olympics, and with France's World Cup victory in 1998. Wrote Ann Killion of the San Jose Mercury News, "No one can ever say again that nobody cares about women's sports." (Brenn Jones)
Fascinating.... With enough new behind-the-scenes reporting to satisfy even the most inveterate soccer fan,.
More than a sports book... Longman tackles complex and controversial issues like race and sex and gender politics on a global scale.
Framed around the final game of the 1999 Women's World Cup in the Rose Bowl (in which the United States beat China on penalty kicks after two scoreless hours), this book by New York Times sportswriter Longman ventures off the field to discuss such topics as the rise of women's sports, women's soccer in Muslim countries, and the athletes' sex appeal. Stars such as Mia Hamm, Michelle Akers, and goalkeeper Brianna Scurry get a chapter apiece, but, laudably, less-heralded players, such as Christine Lilly, Carla Overbeck, and Sun Wen for China, also get center stage. More a celebration than the saga of "how the team changed the world," the book captures the excitement of soccer and the extreme competitive nature of these women players. Game descriptions are so vivid that readers will feel they are watching the game on video. An excellent purchase for all public libraries. (Photos not seen.)--Kathy Ruffle, formerly with Coll. of New Caledonia Lib., Prince George, BC Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
School Library Journal
YA-Longman begins his book on a very hot day in the Rose Bowl at the Women's World Cup finals on July 10, 1999. Although the outcome of the competition, a U.S. win on a penalty kick by Brandi Chastain, made soccer history, he maintains suspense by abandoning a straight report and interspersing related themes. He offers an appraisal of the effect of Title IX, which granted equality for women; an analysis of the rise of women's teams worldwide; insights into the politics of soccer officialdom regarding player and coach financing; and allotment of money for equipment and travel needs. Of greatest interest to young people, however, are Longman's interviews with individual players. Whole chapters are devoted to the careers, philosophies, and doings of Michelle Akers, Mia Hamm, Tiffeny Milbrett, Kristine Lilly, and Briana Scurry. In addition, there is a post-game insight into what fame and endorsement riches have done for and to these "Girls of Summer."-Frances Reiher, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Did a group of largely white middle-class women who play a largely third-world sport really change life as we know it? No, but this entertaining book explains how they became one of the most dominant sports teams in history.
Read an Excerpt
A League of Their Own
ARE YOU BRANDI CHASTAIN?"
"No, she's the naked one."
But you're somebody, aren't you?"
The woman in the restaurant filed through her mental Rolodex.
"I've seen you somewhere. A Denny's ad?"
"Right, so you're . . . "Julie Foudy."
"I knew you were somebody."
A year and a half after the Women's World Cup, the flame of recognitionstill kindled with the public. It was now possible to see Foudy's face,like a wanted poster for calorie felons, in the window of donut shops upand down the East Coast. An athletic windfall had dovetailed with thecommercial one. Beginning in April of 2001, a professional soccer leaguefor women would begin play in eight cities, around the country. Withopening day only four months away, Foudy and her teammates had gatheredin Boca Raton, Florida, for the inaugural draft of the Women's UnitedSoccer Association (WUSA).
The American World Cup and. Olympic stars previously had been assignedin groups of threes to their respective teams. Stars from Brazil, Norwayand Germany had also been allotted in pairs. Still, the draft held muchintrigue. After earlier reluctance, China had recently made five of itsplayers available, including Sun Wen, the most valuable player in the1999 Women's World Cup. Another 200 of the top female players in Americahad also come to Boca Raton for a tryout camp, hoping, to be drafted.Among them was Trudi Sharpsteen of Hermosa Beach, California. She hadbeen in the pool of players considered for the women's national team in1986-87, and was one of the pioneers of thesport. Unlike Foudy, andChastain, however, her career had played out in the anonymity of semiproball. But now, at age 36, Sharpsteen had taken a leave of absence fromher job in the health care industry. Her sport had finally achieved thelegitimacy of a professional league, and she would make one finalattempt to ride the cresting wave of popularity.
"I'm so happy this is happening during my playing career," Foudy said,sitting in a hotel restaurant two days before the draft. "Seeing friendsof mine that I grew up playing against getting a second chance isawesome. I played with Trudi. How cool is this? She probably dreamed ofthis her whole life. She went through some of the same things we wentthrough, and here she is out here. Now she's getting a chance."
Christmas was approaching, but the notion of wintry cheer seemed surrealin South Florida with its sweltering Santas and inflatable snowmen.Once, it had seemed equally implausible that a women's professionalsoccer league would have a chance to succeed in the United States. Evennow, with the Women's World Cup used as a sort of champagne bottle tochristen the launch of the WUSA, many wondered whether the league wouldbe seaworthy. There would be little room for error. Even the most fervidsupporters of the women's game agreed that there would be no secondchance.
As with any start-up, league officials faced opening day with a mix ofanticipation and apprehension. There were no souvenir jerseys in thestores for Christmas; no apparel company willing to match supplies ofuniforms with supplies of cash for sponsorship deals; no permanent CEO,league president or commissioner; no buzz from an American gold medal atthe 2000 Sydney Olympics. Apparently tired after a long, grindingschedule of international travel, the United States played erraticallyduring the Summer Games. Coach April Heinrichs substituted infrequentlyand some believed that her 4-4-2 system was not optimally suited to theAmerican team, marginalizing Kristine Lilly on the wing in midfield andminimizing the chance that, had she been healthy, Michelle Akers wouldhave returned to the lineup. Still, Mia Hamm asserted herself with atimely goal in the semifinals against Brazil and then made a brilliantrescuing pass to Tiffeny Milbrett at the end of regulation in thegold-medal game against Norway. The Americans lost in overtime, however,and in their stunning, gracious defeat there was the sense that apioneering era was coming to an end. Akers announced her retirement fromthe national team before the Olympics, and Carla Overbeck, theindispensable captain, followed before Christmas. "I wanted so badly todo it for this group," Foudy had said after the Norway match. "It'spossibly our last time together. It's irreplaceable, this bond."
Two months later, excruciating defeat had been tempered by theexpectancy of a professional league that would extend the careers ofveteran players and serve to develop younger players for the nationalteam. Still, much work remained. One coach was yet to be namedofficially, and two teams were without finalized stadium contracts. Onlytwo corporate sponsors had been signed instead of the desired eight toten. The league's marketing department had limited experience involvingteam sports. Before a single game was played, one of the franchises hadbeen moved from Orlando, Florida, to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Theteam, known as the Tempest, was considering a name change, to theCourage, not wanting to be known in the inevitable shorthand ofnewspaper headlines as the 'Pests. Akers, voted the top female player ofthe century, had announced she wouldn't play the first season. And JoyFawcett, the reliable defender, was expecting her third child, which ledher San Diego team to request what was surely a first in professionalsports -- pregnancy compensation picks in the WUSA draft.
Despite inescapable growing pains, the WUSA moved confidently towardopening day with its eight teams: the Atlanta Beat, Bay Area CyberRays,Boston Breakers, Carolina Courarage, New York Power, PhiladelphiaCharge, San Diego Spirit and Washington Freedom. There was reason to besanguine. Unlike Major League Soccer, the American men's professionalleague, the WUSA had signed virtually all the top female players in theworld... The Girls Of Summer. Copyright © by Jere Longman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.