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Remembering '99: Marla Messing

Even 10 years later, my memories of the 1999 Women’s World Cup are still so vivid.

Many people’s memories will center around the tournament itself, but of course, I have many from the two years of preparation leading up to that three weeks. Certainly, the Final Draw in San Jose, CA, which was conducted at halftime of the first-ever FIFA Women’s World All-Star Game was a portent of things to come. The stadium was packed, and there was a great celebratory and global atmosphere to the event.

The opening game at Giants Stadium will always be special to me. At a press conference in New York to announce the venues about a year before the tournament, a reporter asked me, with more than a tinge of sarcasm, “Do you REALLY think you will SELL OUT Giants Stadium?" I answered that I did, and we did. The crowd was frenzied and bathed in red, white and blue. Then three of our star players – Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Kristine Lilly – scored goals. It was the perfect beginning.

While the attendance at the U.S. games was fantastic, people forget that we also had great crowds at the non-U.S. games. I went to several of those double-headers. The passion and excitement from the American fans and those supporting their own teams was tremendous. That really added to the credibility and success of the tournament.

The USA’s quarterfinal match outside of Washington, D.C. was an emotional rollercoaster. The U.S. team had to come from behind twice. Brandi Chastain scored an own goal, and then later scored herself. Shannon MacMillan came off the bench to assist Joy Fawcett on the winning goal. After the match, the Clintons, who had come to see the game, visited the team in the locker room. Amazing!

The semifinal match in Palo Alto on July 4 was huge. It was a gorgeous day with Brazilian music, banners and patriotism filling the air. After a 2-0 win, the U.S. was headed to the final.

Los Angeles was the place to be that second week of July. The whole country had become swept up in the tournament. Every major network, cable outlet, newspaper and magazine were there to cover the Final. As the organizers, we were thrilled with the success of the event and the interest in women's soccer. But, what happened on the field on July 10 sealed the legacy of the U.S. team forever. It was very hot, but the fans lived and died with every touch on the ball. Both teams were exhausted at the end, and I’ll never forget Kristine Lilly’s header off the goal line in sudden death overtime.

I have to admit, I could barely watch the penalty kicks. I listened to the roar of the crowd. When the U.S. won, the Rose Bowl went absolutely crazy. It was sensory overload. At the same time, I had to make my way down to the field to participate in the post-game ceremony. I will always remember handing out the medals to the U.S. and Chinese teams on the podium after the final. Though both teams were physically and emotionally exhausted, they were kind and gracious and conducted themselves with sportsmanship and class. Standing on that podium and absorbing the enthusiasm and love of the crowd was incredibly special, a moment I will never forget.

The author was President/CEO of the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup™ and now resides in Los Angeles.