Nov. 14, 2003
Brandi Chastain, the biggest star to come out of the Women's World Cup in 1999, had to take a back seat in 2003 after suffering a broken right foot in the opening game of the tournament, causing her to miss the rest of the competition. After delivering the title four years ago with her game-winning, pressure-cooker penalty kick, Chastain was forced to the bench by a bone not any bigger than a Hot Tamale, and left wondering if she might have been able to add that extra something on the field that would have seen the team playing on the morning of Oct. 12 instead of the afternoon of the day before.
But that wasn't the only soul-searching that Brandi was forced to do in 2003. She also had a pair of personal traumas, losing both her parents--her mom Lark and her dad Roger--within seven months of each other. Her 2004 has also taken on a vastly different look with demise of the WUSA. Even after experiencing those setbacks, Chastain was the best cheerleader the USA could have asked for on the U.S. bench, constantly encouraging her teammates and giving support from the sidelines throughout the tournament. Now she's ready to leave that role behind and get back on the field to try to make the team for the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Center Circle: Looking back on the struggles of 2003 in both your personal and professional life, I can't help but be reminded of the Book of Job. Do you feel like you've this year has been one big test, perhaps the biggest test of your life?
Brandi Chastain: "I look at it being a different challenge. Each challenge I face, seems to be paramount to the challenge before. Hurting my foot was just another type of challenge, one my mom would have told me that I was fortunate to have the opportunity to face. Media types were talking a lot about this World Cup being the last time the veterans will be together. That could be true, but none of the players look at each game like the end is coming. So in that way, I am taking the games like I always have. I want to work hard, get better, contribute to winning and enjoy my team and the players and the places we are fortunate enough to travel to. There are so many more things about the process that I look forward to besides the winning."
CC: Looking back, was there one thing that got you through such a difficult year?
BC: "I think the memories of the good times. The lessons learned, and also possibly the hard times when my parents were there and they never let me give up. They always believed in me. And couple that with the support of teammates and my family all helped get me through it. I remember going back to my second knee surgery, I started to understand the idea that you just have to do things, to move on, to progress. You do things, that's just what you do."
CC: Clearly, your mom was a respected person throughout the entire Bay Area soccer community. What qualities do you think you got from her?
BC: "Hopefully, a few things; I am still working to perfect them. One was the ability to enjoy every situation. She could come into a room and immediately get to know everyone and have everyone laughing or smiling, or maybe getting them outside their comfort zone and get them to do something that is fun and interesting that they never would have been a part of before. That is something that my mom gave me; something that was perhaps her greatest quality. She also taught me never to take no for an answer if I really wanted to get something done. You have to try to find a way, to make people believe when they weren't believers. Not to be pushy, but the point was that if you wanted something bad enough, you would find a way to make things happen."
CC: What's your earliest memory of playing soccer?
BC: "It was probably signing up for my first team, the Quakettes. I got my uniform and my cleats and I wore all my stuff to bed. It was a red and blue mesh shirt and the socks were white with big blue stripes, kind of like the tube socks your dad would wear. They stretched over my kneepads."
CC: Having watched the team's last five matches from the bench, what was your overall assessment of the team's performance last month at the WWC?
BC: "Under the circumstances, with the venue changing to the U.S. and the pressure that goes along with hosting the World Cup, plus playing following a WUSA season which had never happened before, I thought the team did a good job of preparing themselves for the tournament. We had quite a few new players who had never been in an environment like that, and I thought they contributed a great amount to our team. If you had to assess the tournament overall, of course we were disappointed, because our expectations and aspirations were very high. I don't think any other team has aspirations as high to win everything we are a part of, but that's a part of what makes our team great. I think the Women's World Cup also gave us an opportunity to evaluate what type of team we have and the type of soccer we would like to play and need to play. It gives us another challenge for 2004."
CC: What do you think you could have added on the field that might have made a difference in the team's success?
BC: "These are hypothetical questions and answers. We'll never know what would have happened. I could have given some leadership in a vocal way and been a support system in the back. I could have helped encourage my teammates on the field, but other than that, those are questions that just cannot be answered."
CC: Other than the U.S. missing out on the final, what was the biggest surprise from the Women's World Cup?
BC: "I don't think this is a real surprise, but I was very impressed with Sweden's play in the final. They lost their first game to us and I felt they improved throughout the tournament even after taking that loss. They played a great game against a Germany team that really hadn't been tested too much in the tournament. That rivalry goes way back and I thought it was a very well played game. Everyone says that the semifinals are usually more lively than the final, but I thought the final was an excellent game of soccer."
CC: Having come up short in the last two world championships, are you worried about the team's chances of winning a gold medal in Athens?
BC: "I think our chances are as good as anyone. We have the talent and the support of U.S. Soccer. We have the facilities necessary for us to compete for a world title. That is always within our grasp."
CC: How much has the thought of retirement entered your head at this point in your career?
BC: "Not too much, really. Retirement only enters my head when other people talk about it. I was signing autographs at the SEC tournament last weekend and the only thing I could think about besides signing my name and talking to the kids was when I would be able to go get a kick around. I'll know when that time is, but I am more looking forward to the time I have left and improving during that time than when it will finish."
CC: What will 2004 represent for you?
BC: "I think it's a year of opportunity. The schedule next year is a little uncertain, and most might think uncertainty is scary, but I think it brings new opportunity and challenges. We have opportunities on the field to achieve something we have achieved in the past and want to get back to. The year will also give us an opportunity to bring back the WUSA."
CC: As a student of the game and an extremely well-spoken individual, what are the odds that we'll see you in the broadcast booth once you hang up your boots?
BC: "That's not my decision. It's just like making a team, the coach gets to decide. The producers and directors and network presidents get to decide who their talent is. I enjoy watching the game and talking about the game, but who knows if it will happen."
CC: Did you ever dream that you would, in fact, become a household name and be making the talk show rounds on a consistent basis?
BC: "No, but I always felt that I was doing good things, and when you do that, you get attention, but that wasn't ever the point. I always felt that good things would come out of soccer. It just always felt right."
CC: How does it feel to be one of the most well-known soccer players in the world?
BC: "It feels good. When you love something, you want to share it with people. So anytime you get that chance if you are recognized or whatever, it's a good thing."
CC: Do you ever get tired of the "Brandi! Brandi! Brraannddiii!!!!!" chants?
BC: "No, that's fun. What's fun about that is showing the kids that you are really no different than they are. You say 'hi' to them and talk to them and they get all crazy, but they get to know you for those few moments you had together and you give them the reality that it's possible to take women's soccer to the highest level. So that's the part I enjoy. I don't get tired of it."
CC: And finally, the question that all sports talk radio DJ's around the country would like to know: will the jersey ever come off again?
BC: "Like I've said in the past, if there's something good to be celebrated, it may very well happen."