The start of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup is upon us! Let the USWNT fans rejoice!! Although the build up for this year’s squad has been fun to watch, what with 11 first timers making the roster and Alex Morgan being one of the faces to grace the SI Swimsuit cover, there’s been something even more fun to watch.
It’s been 20 years (omg I’m old) since the USWNT, or the ’99ers as they are commonly referred to, made a huge splash across the soccer world when they captured their second World Cup in dramatic finish on penalty kicks over the Chinese team. Twenty years since Brandi Chastain made the sports bra a statement. Those who are familiar with our little site are very familiar with my un-abashed love for this team. And if you are new around these parts let me help you catch up.
This great 20 year milestone mark has given several opportunities already to be able to re-unite the ’99ers. For example, the reunion of all former USWNT players in Los Angeles in April where the ’99 team specifically was honored at half time. It was a thrill to watch (almost) all of my childhood soccer heroes gathered together again on the pitch.
It just so happens that I was listening to the Mia Hamm episode of Julie Foudy’s new podcast “Laughter Permitted” when my memories were triggered of my other favorite team of 1999. The way they joked and re-called memories of their days as teammates sent a pounding wave of nostalgia crashing over me. So I thought I’d take to my computer and tell you a little bit about my other favorite dream team…
The Royal Oak Cobras.
Picture it…..It’s the summer of 1999 and a 14 year old Katie had just made the decision to abandon the rec league team she’d played on her whole life to tell her dad, who doubled as her coach, that she wanted to start playing soccer on a slightly more serious level. After a few successes on the most basic level she was hungry for more. There’s a little more to this story because the other interesting turn of events is that this was the summer before she was entering high school. (I feel like I’m aging even more as I type this.)
Warning: I am a woman who is willingly about to reveal her age…I was born in August of 1985, which meant that according to ROYSA rules I ended up playing with girls who were a grade younger than me for most of my youth. And while this would serve me very well later in high school (oh hey Kimball JV team), at the beginning of my HS experience I wanted nothing more than to play with the girls I would be spending the next year in the same building as.
If you are still here you are probably asking yourself, why are these details important?! Get to the point Katie! Well, the first point is that I had to have the league’s permission to try out for the team that I should have been playing on in the first place! The second point is that I not only had to try out for, but also had to fail to make, the younger team (sorry not sorry Cyclones) in order to make the Cobras (aka the girls in my actual grade). In order to succeed at my ultimate goal I had to fail first. If that’s not a life lesson then I don’t know what else is. At 14 years old I certainly couldn’t appreciate the idea that you had to take a step backwards in order to take two steps forward.
SPOILER ALERT: I MADE THE TEAM I WANTED TO MAKE!
The last part of my try-out for the Cobras was to join them at the annual Saginaw Tournament, just to confirm that this was an adventure that I did indeed want to embark on. Well, when I arrived to the field in Saginaw not only was one of my future teammates already in a neck brace, but another was being carted off the field to also be put in one. By the end of the tournament I think there were a total of 3 girls in neck braces.
Aside from the neck braces however an incredible comradery was born. Much like Julie and Mia would recall, it consisted of late night and early morning hotel pranks. Of hours spent together in car and bus rides. Memories of devastating injuries and incredibly hard fought victories. Of Big Boy breakfasts at Birch Run. Of TGI Fridays/Chilis dinners harassing Thor and embarrassing both ourselves and our parents. Of taking unflattering photos of us eating. Of entering formative years of our lives together with unbreakable bonds. We were forged together because we came of age together.
Soldier Field: Chicago 1999
The other part of this story that I have left out so far is that right after I made this team my mom surprised me with a trip to Chicago. She had cleared it with my new coach for me to go. All she did was hand me a card that said “pack a bag we are going on a trip.” I had no idea where I was headed until I heard the train conductor yell out “you’re all going to Chicago, right?” Consider the surprise blown in the best way. (She had also previously threatened my friend and former teammate Chelsea, a reported blabber mouth, with not ruining it so I’m sure Chels was relieved).
Seated two rows from the top of Soldier Field among views of skyscrapers to my right and Lake Michigan to my left, I sat sweating in awe of the display that Foudy, Hamm, Chastain and their fellow teammates put on in a 7-1 rout of Nigeria. I would also, later in that trip, sit in awe of spotting Italian Captain Antonella Carta at a mall cafe in Water Tower Place.
I arrived back to my new teammates in Royal Oak with the kind of smile that I haven’t been able to hide or wipe off my face for the better part of 20 years. Within a few weeks I had been surprised with a once in a lifetime experience and also succeeding at what I once thought was an un-achievable goal. I came home with a renewed passion for the game. Other teams will and have come and gone but to this day the ’99 Cobras were my dream team to play on and the ’99 USWNT will be the one I will always look up to. To me they will be forever linked together.
No Such Thing As Perfect Timing?
The value of team sports is priceless and, while every team has their own unique chemistry, I would be remiss in saying that the ’99 Cobras was a once in a lifetime kind of team. At least for what they meant to me. The same sentiment stands for the ’99 USWNT. To me they represent the same things. Growth, transition, and an un-explainable bond and they will always be linked to each other.
Sure, we won a ton of games. In the long run though it’s not all the wins that linger in your memory. It’s the small moments in between that become what you look back on with the most fondness.
So I say to to all the little girls who are out there playing now, I hope that you are lucky enough to end up with a team that has 4 Katie’s and a Kat, a Hags, a Ferber and a Sleekers, an M&M, and whatever nicknames you choose to give each other. I hope that you act like rebellious teenagers and terrorize the adults on your floor by playing housekeeping pranks while running up and down the halls. And that you stay in a beautiful house on a lake while staying up all night that lead up to memorable sleepovers.
You will never have another time like this in your life and I hope you cherish it while you can. Cherish it so that when you too are in your older age you can look back on it with the same love and fondness that I do. I got to play with my dream team while also looking up to another one. If you, like me, have had that feeling you will and should feel incredibly blessed. Take it from your resident 30 something year old friend.
And as for this years Cup, you can find me out here showing my age in one of my ’99 t-shirts while watching another generation fall in love with their own personal dream team(s). For me that is the greatest reward I will ever receive. At least from a sports perspective.