Soccer popularity in the USA was near an all time low in the late 90’s. The excitement and anticipation built up from a Quarterfinal performance by the Men’s National team in 1994 was all but erased after a horrific performances in the 1998 World Cup. If Men’s soccer was “unpopular”, women’s soccer was “nowhere on the map,” but that all changed when a team of women took the nation over, winning the 1999 World Cup in dramatic fashion, and most importantly, on home soil. The 99ers, the latest installment in the Nine for IX ESPN film series, gives a never before scene look at this team, from behind the scenes, and gets you caught up on some of the girls today.
The film weaves together two timelines of information. Half of the movie shows eight members of the team, talking about the World Cup while sitting on the same field where they won the title 14 years ago. Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm, Briana Scurry, and Brandi Chastain were just a few of the players involved, and it was great to hear their thoughts on the experience and the title run. There’s a very touching moment where Hamm discusses how tough it was to be the face of the team, both because she hated the attention more than anyone, and the fact that she was missing out on many good times on the team bus while she was busy talking to reporters. This brand of story telling reminding me alot of a previous 30 for 30 movie: Unmatched, which told the story of Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert.
The other half of the film displays some of the great behind the scenes work of one Julie Foudy, who happened to record much of the locker room and bus talk documenting the magical tournament run. As sports fans, we often only get to see how athletes act when the lights and cameras are on them. What we don’t get to see is the personalities and antics the teams get themselves into when they are in the privacy of their locker rooms, and the 99ers gives a very intimate look at how these young women handled having the whole nation’s eyes on them. Juxtaposing this footage of the players currently provides a truly unique story that has yet to be seen or understood by anyone outside of that special team.
The movie ended with the girls discussing whether they were the signs of a trend, or a blip in the radar, and this is something I wish they had spent more time on. After the 1999 win, many assumed that the Women’s national team would keep rolling, and be perennial threats in the Women’s World Cup for years to come. However, the USA has not won the World Cup since 1999, claiming third place in 2003 and 2007. and runner-up just two years ago to Japan. I really wanted to get more of the 1999 team reflecting on the current state of US soccer rather than spending so much time on the 1999 World Cup, though I of course understand the decision to focus primarily on that.
The 1999 Women’s final was one of my favorite sports memories as a child, and seeing this new perspective on that time was exciting and refreshing. While the 99ers isn’t as fantastic or insightful as some of their previous work, it is still an entertaining and interesting view of one of the most memorable national teams in recent memory.