When Julie Foudy is home in Laguna Niguel, she says she feels as if she’s only visiting.
“Probably since I was 16, I’ve spent most of my life out of the country, or at least on the road,” said Foudy, co-captain of the U.S. National Women’s Soccer Team. “That’s really all I know.’
And because of that, and because of the success of her team, she is known around the world.
On her way to the International Tournament in China this year, Foudy stopped by Paris to receive FIFA’s Fair Play Award. She is the first American and first woman to receive the prestigious award, and was cited for her commitment to eliminating child labor from the manufacture of soccer balls.
“A lot of people on our team had heard about the whole child labor issue, because it came to light about two years ago,” she said. “But it wasn’t something we really discussed with each other or had big, deep philosophical conversations about.”
Foudy, who endorses Reebok products, was invited by the company to visit a new soccer ball factory in the Sialkot region of Pakistan early in 1997.
"[The National Team] was headed to Australia, so we worked it out so I could go to Australia and then keep going west to Pakistan.”
The manufacture of balls in that country had been, until then, a cottage industry. Workers were given hexagonal leather patches, and they assembled the balls in their homes.
“That’s where the problems arise,” she said. “There’s no way to monitor who stitches the balls. . . . [Reebok] thought the only way they could guarantee that [no child labor] was used, was to open a central factory. So they opened a factory where the whole thing is made, which is common in the Western World, but over there unheard of.”
At the factory, adult workers squat on stools and assemble balls.
“They make sure nothing leaves the factory,” she said.
At 27, Foudy’s globe-trotting days are hardly over. She is among only six active players who won the inaugural women’s World Cup in 1991. She’s in training to compete in next year’s World Cup, to be held in the United States, and after that, she’s headed to the 2000 Olympics.
“This is supposedly an off-year because there’s no World Cup or Olympics,” said the midfielder, with a weary smile, having recently returned from the Algarve Cup in Portugal. “But we have 25 games.”
Their next is an exhibition against Argentina Friday at Cal State Fullerton. They will play seven more games in the United States before the end of June. In May, the team will play exhibition games in Japan. In January 1999, the U.S. team will convene in Orlando, Fla., where they’ll train for the World Cup.
All this training and traveling can be hard on a marriage. Fortunately for Foudy, her husband of nearly three years, Ian Sawyers, is the perfect match. The two met in the Southern California soccer community when he was a club coach for the Mission Viejo Herricanes and she played for the Soccerettes. When Foudy enrolled at Stanford, he relocated to the Bay Area. He was the school’s assistant coach from 1991-93, then became the women’s head coach from 1993-96, after Foudy graduated.
“He understands these demands,” Foudy said. “Actually, since he met me, that’s how my life has been. He knew getting into this it was going to be like that.
“You’ve got to have a very understanding husband who’s soccer-minded and knows this won’t last a lifetime.”
You wouldn’t want to be the person standing between Foudy and her goals. At Mission Viejo High, she was a three-time Times Orange County player of the year and was named the county’s player of the decade. She led the Diablos to three Southern Section titles from 1986-89.
She was a four-time All-American at Stanford, the team’s MVP for three years and led the Cardinal to four NCAA playoff berths.
Since playing on the team that won the inaugural women’s World Cup, she played on the team that finished third in the 1995 World Cup and won an Olympic gold medal in Atlanta. She has played in 121 games for the U.S. national team, and last year had the rare honor for a woman, participating in the draw for the men’s World Cup in Marseilles, France.
“She’s our free spirit,” U.S. Coach Tony DiCicco said. “She has a wonderful personality and keeps things light on our team. But above that, she’s a winner.”
She’s going to be the in-studio commentator on ESPN’s coverages of the men’s World Cup in June and July. After that, she will run a girls’ soccer camp, along with her husband, in San Juan Capistrano in July.
“I’d love to get involved in coaching, just to stay in soccer,” she said, “but I don’t want to do it as a career. I’ve been involved with soccer a long time, and it’s been good to me and I definitely want to keep giving back. But I have other areas of interest.
“I could see myself with some type of career in TV broadcast journalism. I always wanted to do that, but I got dissuaded from it in college because I didn’t think it was realistic.”
She majored in biology, with the intention of going to medical school. But as it has so often in her life, soccer intervened.
“I got accepted to Stanford med school and I deferred two years for the Olympics,” she said. “And they were great. They said, ‘Don’t worry about it. Do your Olympic thing. Take your time.’
“So for two years, I agonized over the decision whether to be a doctor. It wasn’t about soccer. It was about whether I wanted to be a doctor for the next 40 years.”
She decided not to attend med school, “and I think it was a great decision, because ever since then, it’s been like a big weight lifted from my shoulders.”
Her options are many.
“Oh, I know I’m lucky,” she said. “My mom didn’t have these opportunities. That’s what intrigues me when I go abroad, is to see where other countries are at. I did an appearance in England after the Algarve Cup and there’s so much resistance to women’s soccer.”
In a country where soccer is king, its citizens are not ready for soccer to be queen.
“They’re just in awe of our team,” Foudy said. “They believe we can draw such huge crowds and how good we are, which is good, because I think it encourages women over there to play.”
Growing up in Orange County, Foudy had no such problem.
“In Southern California, we’ve always had a strong base for soccer,” she said. “The Kristine Lillys and Mia Hamms [her national teammates] grew up playing on boys’ teams because they didn’t have any opportunities to play with girls.”
Can she see past the Olympics, past the time when she’s living out of a suitcase?
“I’d like to be playing professional beach volleyball,” she mused. “Or golf. My dream is to keep going from one professional sport to another.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
* What: The U.S. women’s national soccer team meets Argentina in an exhibition game.
* When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
* Where: Cal State Fullerton
* Notes: Tickets can be purchased in advance through the Mission Viejo Soccer Foundation at the Soccer Post, across from the World Cup Training Center on La Paz Road or at San Clemente Sports, 415 Avenida Pico.
* Information: (714) 975-8326