U.S. WNT Flashback - 20th Anniversary of First-Ever Match: Linda Gancitano
Linda Gancitano was the only substitute used in the first-ever game, coming on for Denise Bender. It turned out to be the first of just two matches she would play for the USA, earning her second and final cap when she started at sweeper six days later against Denmark. Gancitano had her career cut short at the 1986 Olympic Festival when she tore the ACL in her left knee. Amazingly, she just had it repaired last year after 18 years, when her knee really started bothering her right before she was to go for her black belt in karate. With no cartilage left in her knee, her pursuit of a black belt was put on hold as she now “waits for advances in stem cell research.” The only player with an Italian surname on that first team, she was a fan favorite of the Italian supporters. At only 5-foot-2, she was one of the smallest players on the team, but was very tactical and read the game well. She played at Central Florida (red-shirting her freshman year) with Michelle Akers and was the defensive MVP of first NCAA Tournament in 1982.
More on the first-ever U.S. WNT match: OOOSA! | First Goal | Players Reflect
Career caps/Goals: 2/0
National Team Career: 1985
Hometown: Coral Springs, Florida
Position played in first match: Right fullback as a substitute
College: Central Florida (1981-1985)
Last WNT game: Aug. 24, 1985, vs. Denmark (0-1 loss to Denmark)
What she’s doing now: Teaching at Driftwood Middle School, a health and wellness magnate school in Hollywood, Florida. She has coached her middle school volleyball team, (which won county last year), and also coached girl’s high school soccer for three years at St. Thomas Aquinas in Ft. Lauderdale. Her middle school students, not believing she played for the U.S. Women’s National Team, have Googled her name, only to find out it was true.
WNT Career Highlight: “Just standing out there with the first team ever for the United States and they are actually playing the National Anthem. Just standing there and knowing that you were the first team ever to travel to another country and you were actually representing the best women in the United States. I also remember people calling my name, probably because it was Italian. I heard it all the time.”
Memories of the first game: “I remember thinking that we could actually play with these teams even though we were just thrown together. We were just missing the “gel” because players were from all over the country. There were signs of brilliance all over the place, but we struggled because of the lack of the team playing together. You could see that in the years to come, when they started getting the girls together more consistently, they really excelled. We just have some phenomenal athletes in the United States.”
“Michelle Akers, Emily Pickering and I were asked to model clothes and do a photo shoot. It was first time Michelle and I ever had makeup on, but I don’t know about Emily! They had three girls from all the different teams. We went to a restaurant and they did our makeup and hair. We wore different clothes and dresses. I have no idea what happened to those pictures.”
Thoughts on how women’s soccer has grown: “I remember that whole group, that generation. In 1980, I was the only girl to make the high school team. The following year it was a girl’s sport in high school in Florida. Then it was a college sport for women. We were right at the beginning of the wave. The players had so much heart and love of the game. You couldn’t wait to practice, and you never asked the coach how many more (sprints). You just played. It was different back then, you really played for the love of the game. We just didn’t quit.”
Thoughts on the 1999 Women’s World Cup: “There are no regrets, but boy would I have loved to play at that time! I guess I was a part of it, but in a totally different role. I was at the start, but to play in front of that many people would have been wonderful. At the time, I was just feeling so much pride in how far women’s soccer has come and where it’s going to go. You had to have felt a part of it, and I did. I felt like I was there, but it was like stepping stones. Without the first steps you can’t take the final steps or the ones in between.”