Inside soccer with Brandi Chastain
Amanda Rykoff: What changes have you seen in the women's game since your playing days with the U.S. national team?
Brandi Chastain: When I played collegiate soccer, there were 75 Division I programs vying for a championship. Now there are 325 Division I women's soccer programs vying for a national championship. I think that's indicative of the way soccer has grown and developed. That also speaks about how the sport is growing in this country, and how U.S. soccer has impacted the rest of the world.
You can't speak about world soccer without speaking about the collegiate game here because many members of other teams have gone to college here and participated at the Division I level ... and now are participating with their national teams in this World Cup. Ali Riley [New Zealand and Stanford] being one specifically; Teresa Noyola of Mexico [and Stanford]; Kelli Smith, the captain of England, played at Seton Hall. I see that Title IX has impacted where soccer has gone and still where soccer will go. And that's truly significant.
In terms of how the game has developed, I think in the beginning, soccer was a very physical, athletic sport for most of the world, and skill development wasn't quite yet the focal point, but that's changed. These players are technical, and they do it at great speed and with great athleticism. We had the athleticism and the speed, but now the technical ability has just risen to a new level.
AR: How has the perception of the game changed since you first started playing?
BC: Because soccer wasn't a "traditional" American sport, it gave that perception that it wasn't that important. But with last year's men's World Cup and this year's women's World Cup, it's changed a lot. I remember the first World Cup. Nobody knew about it. There was one reporter who did an article just because we happened to be walking past him after we got back to New York and was like, "Hey, what are you guys doing here?"
It's changed a lot, but I think you can say that soccer is going to take a spot pretty quickly -- when I say pretty quickly, in terms of growing a sport it could be 10 years -- in American sports culture because now every young person is growing up playing soccer, and there are professional leagues on the men's and women's side and [people are] having the opportunity to play collegiately as well.
AR: How has having a European female coach, Pia Sundhage, changed the way the U.S. is playing and adapting its style?
BC: I still think it's too early to know that. I think hiring Pia ... [because] the majority of coaches had come from the same place and had the same background and same philosophy... [has] definitely [added] to the depth for the players. Having a different perspective is always good. I think sometimes change is scary for people, but I think change can be an opportunity. The coach has highlighted different areas of the game. As far as being a female coach, as a player, I just want a coach who is competent and can offer me or the team something. Being female is neither a distraction nor a bonus.
AR: What do you expect from the United States team in this year's World Cup?
BC: I'm looking forward to seeing the rise of some leadership from young players from the U.S. team. There are 12 players who have never had World Cup experience, so that will be very interesting to see. I'm looking at Abby Wambach. She scores great goals and has scored great goals throughout her career in big games, and I think they'll need her more now than ever before.
AR: What are you expecting from other teams?
BC: It's going to be exciting to watch teams that we don't even know. I'm still learning names and learning teams I've never seen before. This will be very exciting and interesting. The drama of having Equatorial Guinea representing African nations in the tournament for the first time is remarkable and groundbreaking, in my opinion. There are a lot of stories to track this summer.
AR: What are your thoughts on the Capital One Cup, and do you wish it had been around when you competed in college? [The cup awards the top men's and top women's Division I programs across 13 sports, including soccer.]
BC: It's like watching the World Cup. You want to be there and you want to be in on it. For as much as I am sort of envious of it, my experience was outstanding and Title IX gave me the opportunity to play. The cup is about women and men learning life lessons. The cup being awarded draws attention to the validity of the sports that don't get the headlines on a regular basis or don't have the highlights.