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Remembering '99: Tisha's Two

After not playing in the first two matches of the 1999 Women’s World Cup, Tisha Venturini came off the bench to start the third group match and left her indelible mark on the tournament with two goals and one flip.

Entering the USA’s third round match against North Korea at the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the Americans had six points in the bag, scoring 10 goals while allowing just one.

Advancement to the second round was all but assured. Still, there was much at stake, with momentum heading into the knockout rounds perhaps the key variable. U.S. head coach Tony DiCicco also wanted to take advantage of the excellent results in the first two games by resting some players. He gave starts to reserves Tiffany Roberts, Sara Whalen, Shannon MacMillan and Tisha Venturini.

The latter two would combine to make history, accounting for three goals and two assists in the 3-0 victory while sending the Americans to the quarterfinals with an undefeated record, and yes, that ever-valuable “mo.”

“Two months before the World Cup, Tisha and I had sat down to talk as she was kind of lost in her role in the team,” said then U.S. head coach Tony DiCicco. “I told her, your role is to give us a boost and score goals or create goals. The first game we played after that meeting was against China in Hershey (Pa.) and she got the game-winner in a game where we played great. So that role rang true to her. Going into the game vs. North Korea, she knew what her role was. She was always going to work hard, but she knew that if she got in the game she could help us score, and she comes up with two classic Tish goals.”

Even though the USA out-shot the Koreans 11-4 in the first half, the teams went into halftime scoreless. Would the current roll on which the vaunted American were riding be stifled? At halftime, DiCicco changed two forwards, taking off Mia Hamm and Cindy Parlow and sending on Tiffeny Milbrett and Julie Foudy. Then the Mac and Tish Show took over.

“The subs knew that some people were going to rest so we were psyched to be able to play,” said Venturini. “I remember being so nervous, more nervous than I’d ever been before. It was electric, and I started freaking out. Then Lil (Kristine Lilly) told me, “dude, relax, don’t worry about it. It’s going to be great.”

MacMillan scored off a cross from Foudy in the 56th minute, then assisted twice to Venturini, in the 68th and in the 76th minutes, the final goal a diving header that was celebrated with a round-off back-flip which was an ESPN SportsCenter highlight at its best. As the tournament was starting to gain some major media coverage at that point, Venturini’s celebration was seen all across the country.

In fact, when the USA arrived in Washington, D.C., the next day to prepare for the quarterfinal against Germany, and Venturini walked by two well-dressed businessmen in the airport, one said to the other, “Hey, that’s the girl that did the back-flip last night!” It was indeed.

“I remember the first goal was kind of sloppy, but just being on the field and being able to contribute was the best thing ever,” said Venturini. “Just to score some goals and keep the momentum going for the team was awesome. It’s hard when you don’t get in the game and I think it was a great that the subs got to contribute, so the goals were just icing on the cake. I never thought that would happen.”

The most amazing thing about Venturini’s celebration was that 1) she didn’t do it after her first goal, waiting until she got a second, and 2) no one but college teammate Mia Hamm knew she could do it or had ever seen her do it.

“I saw her do it on a golf course once, but I had no idea she was going to do it as a celebration,” said Hamm. “I’m just glad no one got in the way and got karate kicked in the face. She got tremendous height and it was a perfect dismount.”

Apparently, Venturini was a veteran of some gymnastics training as a little girl and her celebration will go down as one of the best in U.S. Women’s World Cup history, yet another iconic moment from a historic tournament run.

“It was totally spur of the moment,” said Venturini of her back-flip. “I had never been that excited. I just took off and it just happened. My teammates were shocked. I remember seeing a picture and Foudy’s mouth was just wide open. She couldn’t believe it. I guess instead of ripping off my shirt or jumping into the stands, I did the flip. Although ripping off the shirt might have been a better idea.”

“I remember saying to her, have you been hiding that from us?,” said Foudy. “I didn’t know that she could do that. If I could do a back-flip, I would have been practicing it during training every day. I told her, ‘Who are you? I don’t even know you.’”

Venturini would not play again until the last five minutes of overtime in the Women’s World Cup Final. But it was fitting that she was on the field for one of the most iconic moments in U.S. history after Brandi Chastain nailed the winning penalty kick.

“Tisha was so important as a leader on the bench on that team,” added DiCicco. “Here was a player who was one of our leading scorers in the 1996 Olympics, scored in the first two games of that Olympics, and now she was on the bench supporting her teammates, knowing what her role was. She was just a great leader and I don’t think anyone was more respected on the team than Tisha Venturini.”