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‘Forever immortalized’: 1999 USWNT honored with statue at Rose Bowl

Legends of the 1999 U.S. Women’s World Cup championship team were honored with a statue unveiled in Pasadena Wednesday on the 20th anniversary of the historic victory at the Rose Bowl.

Brandi Chastain made history on July 10, 1999, with a decisive penalty kick that gave the U.S. a 5-4 victory over China in the World Cup Final. Afterward, in a moment she described as pure insanity, she ripped off her jersey and fell to her knees in celebration in front of a crowd of 90,185, the largest for a women’s sporting event in history.

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“When I stepped up to take that penalty kick, I didn’t know what that day would mean and what that celebration would mean,” Chastain said during Wednesday’s ceremony. “You can’t possibly understand what a childhood dream feels like until you’ve lived it.”

That celebration — and Chastain’s iconic pose — is now etched in history forever with a statue signed by all members of the team.

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In the words of Marla Messing, the chief executive and president of U.S. Soccer in 1999, the accomplishments of the 1999 U.S. Women’s National Team are “forever immortalized.”

Three days earlier, the legacies of the 2019 USWNT were solidified with a record-high fourth World Cup title.

The 2019 USWNT’s accomplishments “simply wouldn’t have been possible” without the 1999 team laying the groundwork, Pasadena City Councilwoman Margaret McAustin said.

Back in 1999, Carli Lloyd — the 2019 team’s oldest player at 36 — was tearing it up in high school, and the team’s youngest players were in diapers. Chastain and the rest of the 1999 team inspired the 2019 World Cup Champions, who in turn are inspiring and empowering the next generation of female soccer players.

“You know it’s possible, that it happened twice,” Elizabeth Craig, a 10-year-old and a member of Santa Anita Soccer Club, said Wednesday of the 1999 and 2019 USWNT titles. “That means that we could grow up and we could possibly win.”

Her favorite player, midfielder Megan Rapinoe, put the U.S. up 1-0 in the 61st minute of the World Cup Final against the Netherlands. Like Chastain in 1999, she celebrated the penalty kick goal in infamous fashion, spreading her arms wide to embrace the audience.

“In my opinion, she’s the best penalty kicker on the team,” Elizabeth said. “I want to grow up to be like her and [forward Alex] Morgan.”

Chastain made clear that “there’s no one person that makes a team,” but it’s her kick, celebration and pose that will live on forever, both in the minds of U.S. Soccer fans and now on the historic Rose Bowl grounds.

The statue commemorating the USWNT joins one of Pasadena-native and Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson as the only commemorative statues at the historic Rose Bowl Stadium.

Robinson is remembered as a hero in his sport, an athlete who made history by redefining what it meant to play the game. The same can be said of Chastain, who with a single strike from her left foot, captured the imagination of a nation and inspired countless athletes to come.

James Faris is a contributing writer to Times Community News.

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