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How One Save Sparked USWNT’s Meteoric Rise

  • Briana Scurry has seen the rise of women's soccer as a key player on legendary USWNT teams and now a NWSL part-owner.
  • Her save in a shootout against China in the 1996 Olympics set up one of the USWNT's most iconic moments.
July 10, 1999: Goalkeeper Briana Scurry knocks away a penalty shot by China's Liu Ying preserving helping the USWNT beat China in the Women's World Cup Final at the Rose Bowl. Soccer 1999 Womens World Cup
USA TODAY

The long growth trajectory of women’s soccer began in 1996, when Brandi Chastain’s iconic penalty against China won Olympic gold for the U.S. Women’s National Team.

That moment is credited with inspiring countless American girls and women — and it was set up by a save from goaltender Briana Scurry.

“Not a lot of people saw that game on TV because NBC refused to show it live,” Scurry said on Front Office Sports Today. “So the ‘99 World Cup was the first time that we were on full live display for the country and the world to see.”

Scurry saw the progression of women’s soccer in the U.S. from a sport deemed unworthy of live television to this year’s Women’s World Cup, which is garnering around $200 million in global media rights.

“Now you have 32 teams in the World Cup — and seven of those teams, this is their first time — all these countries are now putting enough funding into their women’s programs to be able to … send them to the World Cup and to show the world what they can do,” Scurry said.

Like the current USWNT, which secured back pay and a revenue-splitting agreement with the U.S. Men’s National Team after filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, Scurry’s teams often had to fight just as hard off the field.

She was one of nine USWNT players who went on strike prior to the 1996 Olympics over equal-pay issues, in part because U.S. Soccer would only pay the team a bonus if they won gold.

“That was just ridiculous, whereas they were gonna give the men’s team a bonus, whether they won gold, silver, or bronze,” said Scurry. “So we went on strike, and that was one of the first major steps publicly that the team had ever taken in the name of equity.

“It takes a resolute amount of unity within your club and within your group to be able to pull this off because, a lot of times the bluff is gonna be called by the federation, whatever country it is.”

One of her teammates on the 1996 Olympic team and the 1999 Women’s World Cup-winning team, Cindy Parlow Cone, went on to become the president of U.S. Soccer. In 2020, Parlow Cone signed the landmark agreement in which the U.S. Men’s and Women’s teams split their winnings.

Now a part-owner of the NWSL club the Washington Spirit, Scurry is hoping to foster the next wave of growth in women’s soccer. She is also working to tell important stories in the world of soccer, namely through her new podcast, COUNTERATTACK, with Religion of Sports.

“Soccer here is really at a great place. It’s growing, but it has so much more potential to grow, which seems odd because it’s been around forever.”

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