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100 Moments: Mia Bags Number 108

To borrow (and slightly alter) a line from the fantastic 1970s instructional film series “Pele – the Master and His Method”…

To score one goal is to make a woman a hero. To score 108 is to make her a legend.

Mia Hamm accomplished many magnificent feats in her career, the sum of which undeniably earned her legendary status, but the day she became the world’s all-time leading international goal scorer certainly ranks conspicuously among her many career highlights.

The 108th goal came in Hamm’s 172nd-career match on May 22, 1998, at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla., the host city of the USA’s Residency Training Camp for the 1996 Olympics and the 1995 and 1999 Women’s World Cup tournaments. It was in these familiar surroundings during a 3-0 victory against Brazil that Hamm passed every woman who had ever scored in international competition.

“We lived in Orlando for residency and the Citrus Bowl was the stadium where we played our first two games in ’96 Olympics, so it was a special place for us, kind of like our second home,” said Hamm. “I loved the surface of that field. It was fast. I remember I took a touch and it got away from me, but maybe that helped set up a goal because I megged the goalkeeper.”

That goal through the “five-hole” came in stoppage time at the end of the first half in front of 10,452 fans, a very large crowd for a U.S. WNT match at the time.

With the score tied at 0-0 and the final seconds ticking away in the first half, a dynamic combination of five one-touch passes led to the record-breaker.

The sequence started when Michelle Akers lofted a ball to Hamm about 40 yards from the goal. Hamm nodded the ball down to Kristine Lilly, who popped a pass to Cindy Parlow at the top of the penalty box. Parlow held her defender off and laid the ball into the path of Hamm, who had continued her run and was sprinting into the right side of the penalty box. She took a touch as she burst into the area, fought off a defender and then drove the ball through the legs of Brazilian goalkeeper Didi from 10 yards out.

With that score, Hamm moved past long-retired Italian legend Elisabetta Vignotto into first place on the world’s all-time scoring list. Predictably, she chose to share the spotlight.

"It was special to get the record on such a great team goal," said Hamm after the game.

The U.S. bench emptied onto the field in a wave of pure emotion to congratulate Hamm. Midfielder Tiffany Roberts, a 5-foot-4 dynamo who played 110 times for the USA, led the impending WNT dog pile.

“I think I almost decapitated her,” said Roberts, the current head women’s soccer coach at Central Florida University. “I almost felt bad, I grabbed her so hard, but I was so excited that I was sprinting at her as fast as I could. I’m not sure what emotions came over me, but she was such a leader on the team and such a great friend, it was awesome to be there when she broke the record. On that team, everyone pulled for one another, so when she was able to achieve that, everyone was so happy for her, for what she’d done for our sport and for our team.”

For Hamm, the satisfaction of scoring that goal and the emotion it brought out of her was in large part about the opponent, but also in relief at finally getting the record as well as the appreciation shown by her teammates.

“Brazil is a team you love to compete against,” said Hamm. “They have an edge to them, they are dynamic on the ball, tremendously physical, and they make you emotionally commit to the game. But there was some relief that I knew I could now focus on what’s important, not the record, but on helping my team win. As a forward you feel you should score every game, even though that’s not always possible, but in the end you want to do your job. So when I turned around to see the outpouring of support from my teammates and saw how excited they were for me, it meant a lot.”

Hamm would go on to find the net exactly 50 more times before hanging up her boots in 2004 as the greatest female international goal scorer in history, a title that may soon belong to Abby Wambach. But even when the 5-foot-11 Wambach does eclipse her mentor’s total of 158 goals, the legend of Hamm’s goal scoring prowess will always live on.

“It wasn’t just one thing that made Mia a great goal scorer, what made her so successful was that she had a bag full of tricks,” said Roberts. “Her change of speed was tremendous, and her desire to take defenders one-on-one was amazing, but she also know where defenders were on the field and how to expose their weaknesses. It wasn’t just speed, moves, or flash, she was really, really smart.”

Twenty-eight days after her record-breaking goal, Hamm scored one that people remember a bit more.

It was a goal that goes down as one of her greatest and most important, coming in front of a sell-out crowd of 79,972 fans at Giants Stadium in New Jersey in the opening game of the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup. It kick-started the USA’s 3-0 victory against Denmark and propelled America’s new darlings on a warp-speed journey to history at the Rose Bowl three weeks later.

But Hamm scored every one of her goals for the same reasons, from her first through 108 and all the way through 158: she scored for her teammates and because it was just plain fun.