Retiring trio major players in golden era of U.S. women's soccer
LOS ANGELES -- Mia Hamm realized women's soccer wasn't quite the same when celebrities began asking her for an autograph for their children.
"You know who we are?" was her amazed reaction.
After the U.S. team created a national phenomenon in the 1999 World Cup, millions of people across the United States -- and in China -- knew who Hamm and her American teammates were.
A crowd of 90,000 watched at the Rose Bowl, and another 40 million on TV, as the Americans beat China on penalty kicks in the final.
Now a golden era for U.S. women's soccer is ending: all-time leading scorer Hamm, longtime captain Julie Foudy and "ultimate soccer mom" Joy Fawcett are retiring from the national team.
Hamm recalled training on her own in the early days with the U.S. team, living day-to-day on part-time jobs, and how all that changed dramatically.
"When you go out to practice and you see people like Tom Brokaw coming out for your practice, you think, 'What's going on?" Hamm recalled.
Foudy, too, certainly saw the difference.
"When you had kids come up to you and break down and start crying, you thought, 'What's wrong?' Then you realized that she was just excited to be meeting the team," Foudy said. "Experiences like that remind you of all this team has done."
Hamm and Foudy will represent their country for the final time Wednesday night in Carson, Calif., facing Mexico in a friendly match that concludes a 10-game "Fan Celebration Tour." Fawcett will be at the game, but unable to play because she is recovering from back surgery.
While those three were playing for the United States, the team won two World Cup championships and two Olympic gold medals, including in Athens in August.
Hamm, 32, has played for the national team for more than half her life and has become one of the more recognizable female athletes in the world. The two-time FIFA women's world player of the year was 15 when she began playing for the United States, the youngest player ever on the team.
"I don't know what the heck I'm going to do now," Hamm said Monday during a conference call that included Foudy and Fawcett. "There are mixed emotions. This is something we've known and been part of for a long time.
"We've been players for a long time, but also fans. Instead of the sidelines, we'll be in the stands cheering on the future generation. I'm excited to be a fan, whether that's going to Portugal (for a U.S. game), or having a six-pack and sitting in the stands."
With one national game remaining, forward Hamm has 158 goals in 275 games for the U.S. team. Her goals total is a world record.
Foudy, a 33-year-old midfielder, has 45 goals in 271 games. The 36-year-old Fawcett, who juggled her career with raising three daughters, is the team's highest-scoring defender, with 27 goals in 239 career games.
All three players hope they are leaving a legacy.
"I think we've left the game in a better place," Foudy said. "One of the things I feel most good about, we've literally had a global impact and have seen it firsthand. Not just soccer, but it's empowering young girls around the world.
"You've seen the Mexicos and the Brazils and other countries that have elevated their teams because of what we've done in the U.S."
While all three players said the U.S. team has a lot of young talent and believe the youth leagues will continue to turn out good players, they hope the Americans won't fall behind other countries. The United States finished third in the 2003 World Cup, at home.
"This is one of the most critical times," Hamm said. "Obviously the parity is there. Brazil has set a new standard for the rest of the world. As players, as a federation and as a country, we need to realize that the game has reached a new level."
Said Fawcett: "I'm very happy with where U.S. Soccer has taken the women's program, excited for the young girls and their future and hope it will continue to grow."
Hamm will spend more time with her husband, baseball star Nomar Garciaparra, and the rest of her family now that she won't be training and playing for the national team. Foudy will conduct soccer camps, and Fawcett will be able to haul her daughters around to practice.
None of the players plan to quit kicking.
"I don't know whether I will play in a coed league," Hamm said, "but I will go out and kick it around."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index