Mia Hamm Talks U.S. Soccer, World Cup, Legacy
If not for Mia Hamm, Women's soccer wouldn't be what it is today. Soccer in America, for that matter, wouldn't be what it is today. Before 1999, Americans barely knew the difference between a corner kick and a Coolatta. But once Hamm and the U.S. Women started whooping some ass and won the Cup on home soil, it was on. Don't act like you didn't have that Brandi Chastain photo pinned somewhere on your bedroom wall back in the day.
For a stretch, Hamm was one of only a handful of athletes who could rival Michael Jordan in terms of sports and pop culture popularity. Like, literally there was a Gatorade commercial called "Michael vs. Mia."
Fifteen years later, Hamm remains one of the iconic faces of American soccer. Until last year, Hamm held the record for the most international goals of any player ever in the history of the game — male or female. (Word to Abby Wambach.) She appeared in 275 international games wearing the red, white and blue.
Basically, Mia Hamm might know a thing or two about World Cup soccer. Plus, let's get real: She has twin girls in grade school (sup Nomar) that are all but assuredly going to be stars of World Cups future. So when we got the chance earlier this month at Gatorade's High School Athlete of the Year event in Los Angeles, we asked Hamm about the USMNT's run earlier this summer at the World Cup in Brazil, got her to preview the Women's World Cup next summer and had her reflect on the lasting legacy of the '99 team that captured the hearts of Americans and propelled women's soccer to new heights.
What did you think of the USMNT's run at the 2014 World Cup?
First of all, just getting out of that group was a tremendous accomplishment, and then the way they did it — they made all of us proud and never gave up. Even playing through some circumstances, I think the injuries, with Jozy Altidore going down — that changed a lot, that’s your main target, that’s the person you’re relying on to help create and score goals for you. The adjustments that they made, not one of those players ever made an excuse, they never felt defeated and people stepped up and played big when they needed them too. That’s what a team is. That’s what I felt. They played together and played for each other.
How was your World Cup watching experience?
It was awesome, wherever I was. I made sure all our kids were dressed up, and I was wearing the USA stuff on their game days. Whether it was at home or traveling, in a hotel room or with friends, just making sure I could watch as many games as I could.
Are you excited to see if this momentum for soccer can continue next summer for the Women's World Cup?
Absolutely. You know, the coverage has been tremendous and it’s great to see our huge sports networks committing the time and the resources and the coverage to this game. Everywhere else in the world, they do, so I'm excited about the foundation and the standard that was set. People are already talking about the Women's World Cup — in October, the women have to qualify, so they'll will get an opportunity to showcase. It’ll be great.
Give us a little preview of that your expectations for that team.
It’ll be interesting, they’ve had a lot of the young players come up and get some opportunities to get some playing time. And whether its Abby Wambach up top or Christen Press, who has been playing really well, or Sydney Leroux. I’m anxious to see what happens in the back. It looks like Christie Rampone is going to be playing, which is — she’s unbelievable. Her longevity and her fitness, I mean that’s ridiculous what she’s doing. And to see that midfield solidify, whether it be with Lauren Holiday in there, just seeing how they do it, what system they play. Because they have a lot of players who are gaining great experience in the league and I think they have a lot of young players that have gained some confidence over the last two years.
Obviously the U.S. Women have had more success in the World Cup than the Men, and there are a lot of reasons for that, but is there a type of player the women have that the men don’t have?
I feel there’s a couple reasons — we can talk about the factors, but I don’t think it’s a certain type of player. I think here in the U.S. we just got a really big head start in terms of the other countries around the world. Women playing soccer around the world is a relatively new phenomenon and we were able to put resources behind it first. And because of collegiate soccer, that’s where we were training our kids, training our girls and we are all over the world. On the men's side, they’re playing professionally at a young age. You know, David Beckham and Lionel Messi were getting scooped up at 8, 9, 10 years old, so it’s different. But, If there’s any country that can do it, it’s this country. So I’m excited about the growth and potential.
For you, what's the legacy of that '99 U.S. Women's World Cup team?
I’m hoping that the lasting legacy from that team is just, more opportunities. You see it whether it's in Youth World Cups, you see more girls playing, more collegiate programs emerging, but also off the field, it's young girls believing they can do and be whatever they want.