Michelle Akers with the 1993 Concacaf Women’s Championship trophy. (Michael Lewis/FrontRowSoccer.com)
This story was published in Soccer Week on Dec. 5, 1991 and is used with permission.
By Michael Lewis
Soccer Week Editor
When she started soccer at the ripe young age of eight in Santa Clara, Calif., Michelle Akers-Stahl found herself stopping goals instead of scoring them.
“They scored a lot of goals against me,” she said of her short-lived goalkeeping days. “We ended up losing every game we played, and I cried after every one.”
Many years removed from that role, the only crying done in relation to Akers-Stahl these days is by her opponents — in anger and in frustration — usually after she scores a goal.
Imagine the frustration the 25-year-old Oviedo, Fla. resident caused in the Women’s World Cup in the People’s Republic of China as she earned the Golden Boot as the leading scorer with 10 goals. She also took home the Silver Ball award as the second most valuable player. Teammate Carin Jennings won it.
“I’m just staring, eyes wide open, watching everyone celebrate,” Akers-Stahl said by telephone on Nov. 30, 1991, after the U.S. captured the championship with a 2-1 victory over Norway. “I can’t believe I’m actually part of this.”
Particularly after Akers-Stahl scored both American goals, the latter coming with a scant three minutes remaining in regulation.
“I’m excited for her,” U.S. coach Anson Dorrance said.
And in awe of her, too, which is a lot for a coach to admit because he has directed the University of North Carolina to nine NCAA Division I titles in 10 years.
“She towers over the opposition,” Dorrance said. “Not only is she 5-10 (and 150 lbs.) and can jump through the roof, she’s incredibly agile and quick. She’s a force out there.
“I was in awe of her ability.”
It was no mistake that Akers-Stahl wound up as the top scorer. Virtually her entire career has been one of filling the net.
At the University of Central Florida, she set all kinds of school scoring records and was named All-American four times. She also was the first winner of the Hermann Award for women, college soccer’s equivalent of the Heisman Award, in her senior year. Entering the cup, Akers-Stahl had 28 goals in 18 international appearances.
But as good as Akers-Stahl was, she got better after teaming up with former American Soccer League player Roby Stahl, who operates the Post to Post Training Center. Under Roby’s tutelage, she learned the finer points of the game and finishing and eventually married her mentor in April 1990.
“I credit her husband for turning her into an exciting international scoring machine,” Dorrance said. “She wasn’t selfish. He made her go to the goal and she became a lethal striker. It was a marriage made in heaven: A shooting coach and an incredible goal-scorers.”
Akers-Stahl agreed. “I think I can almost fully credit him and my hard work and his patience for putting up with me at times,” she said. “I always had motivation and desire to be the best. A lot of times I let the animal in me take over. I would run through people. Roby taught me to use technique and finesse.”
Her No. 1 fan also attended the World Cup.
“The one thing I will remember most is my husband after we received the medals,” Akers-Stahl said. “He is usually the calm, cold professional one, but he was telling me over and over, ‘I love you,’ and weeping. It was one of the most touching moments of my life.”
What’s next for Akers-Stahl? She would like to return to Tyreso of Stockholm in the Swedish First Division, for whom she played there for three months last year.
It’s not easy earning a living as a soccer player — man or woman — in the United States these days, even with the 1994 World Cup looming over the horizon.
Akers-Stahl has a sponsorship contract with Umbro — the first woman soccer player to get a sponsorship with the company. Don’t be surprised if she does some coaching and clinics.
“You can’t survive on endorsements,” she said. “If you want to play fulltime, you have to coach, give clinics, do all you can. It melds together to be an income.”