The USWNT poses for a picture at JFK Airport after returning home from China. (Michael Lewis/FrontRowSoccer.com)
Thirty years ago today, the U.S. women’s national team won the very first Women’s World Cup. This story was written by Michael Lewis for Soccer Week in 1991.
This was published in Soccer Week in November 1991 and it is used by permission
It was an incredible sight, something U.S. Soccer officials had dreamed about for years.
Amid a huge fireworks display, the medals and trophies were handed out to the winners and finally, they took a well-deserved victory lap around the stadium.
The U.S. women’s national team was on the receiving end of those honors on Nov. 30, 1991 after defeating Norway, 2-1, to capture the first Women’s World Cup. In the process, the American women also became the first U.S. team to win a FIFA-sponsored tournament.
The front page of Soccer Week said it all about the USWNT in 1991.
The Americans accomplished this feat in dramatic fashion as forward Michelle Akers-Stahl intercepted a backpass to the goalkeeper and scored her second goal of the match with three minutes remaining to secure the victory and a spot in domestic and international soccer history in Guanzhou, China (on Nov. 30, 1991).
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” and elated U.S. coach Anson Dorrance said minutes after the victory. “I’m very excited and so is everyone here.”
He also was excited about how the victory would impact on soccer in the United States.
“It will help in all sorts of different ways,” he said. “It gives us confidence in the United States that we can play in the international area. It vies all of us confidence we can organize a team. This is a great lead-in for us organizing the World Cup in 1994. I can see a lot of positive things happening in 1994.”
Akers-Stahl, who finished with a tournament high 10 goals to win the Golden Boot, agreed.
“When the U.S. men qualified for the World Cup, it opened U.S. eyes to what soccer is around the world,” she said. “This is another boost for soccer in America, getting people to finally realize how big the sport is worldwide.”
The Americans were able to say that after surviving a second half that was dominated by the Norwegians before a capacity crowd of 65,000 Tianhe Stadium.
“In a slogan my grandfather always used: Luck is better than skill,” Dorrance said. “It was even in the first half but in the second half Norway had most of the play. the U.S., however, got the break against the run of play. I consider my team a very excited but a very lucky world champion.”
Still, skill had something to do with it as the U.S. rolled to a flawless 6-0 record while outscoring its opposition, 25-5, en route to the title.
Besides her scoring award, Akers-Stahl also earned the Silver Ball, finishing second to teammate Carin Jennings in the MVP voting. Germany’s Heidi Mohr was second with seven goals, Jennings was third with six.
Akers-Stahl had given the Americans a 1-0 edge in the 19th minute as she outjumped the defense and headed home a Shannon Higgins free kick. But Norway countered with a goal by Birthe Hegstad, who played for Dorrance at the University of North Carolina, tying it in the 28th minute.
The Norwegians came close again in the second half on a header by Heidi Riise that traveled wide right.
“I was pleased the way we played in the defensive third during the second half,” Dorrance said. “We had progressed a great deal from our match with Sweden when we had been pressured late in the game.
“Our two marking backs [Linda Hamilton and Joy Biefeld] and our sweeper [Carla Werden] and our goalkeeper [Mary Harvey] all were outstanding. Our midfield and attacking part of our game were not as successful as in previous matches, but I credit Norway with making it disruptive for us.”
With three minutes left, Akers-Stahl did some disrupting of her own as she intercepted a pass from Norway’s Tin Svensson and beat onrushing goalkeeper Reidun Seth.
“Everyone on the team said their hearts were stopping because they didn’t think I would ever shoot the ball,” Akers-Stahl said. “I was making sure I wouldn’t miss.”
She didn’t and the U.S. managed to escape the final three minutes unscathed.
“Even if we had lost, the sacrifices were well worth it,” Dorrance said. “The girls played for the love of the game. . . . Winning it was icing on a beautiful cake for us.”
Only three days before, Dorrance actually was counting his blessings that no U.S. team had played in a world championship final before.
“We’re so naive,” he said. “We don’t have any fear of a World Cup final. God bless the mentality.”