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U.S. WNT Flashback - 20th Anniversary of First-Ever Match: Who Scored First?

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the first-ever match in U.S. Women’s National Team history, takes a quick look back at the first goal in the program’s history and gets to the bottom of who actually scored it. 

More on the first-ever U.S. WNT match: OOOSA! | Players Reflect

We know that the first-ever goal for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team came on August 21, 1985, three days after the first-ever match in WNT history. We know it was against Denmark in a 2-2 tie in Jesolo, Italy. We also know that it was either Emily Pickering or Michelle Akers who bagged the historic score.

From there on, we may not be one-hundred percent sure of the facts.

For years, it was assumed that Michelle Akers scored the first goal. After all, she went on to score 104 more goals in a legendary career that included two Women’s World Cup titles, an Olympic gold medal and distinction as the FIFA Women’s World Player of the Century.

Who better to get the first of what now stands at 1,131 goals the U.S. women have scored over the past 20 years?

But that story was disputed in 1999 when Mike Ryan, the first head coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team, said in an interview with Grahame Jones of the Los Angeles Times that it was Pickering who scored the first goal.

“(Akers) didn’t really score the first goal,” said Ryan, now 71, a former metallurgist who was working in a foundry in Seattle during the time he coached the first four games in U.S. history at the tournament in Italy. “It was a girl named Emily Pickering. She got the first goal on a free kick and put it right in the corner. The Danes were flabbergasted.”

The problem is, Pickering doesn’t remember for sure, and neither do any of her teammates.

“That seems to be the big debate as to whether Michelle Akers or I scored the first goal for the National Team,” Pickering, now Emily Harner, said recently.  “I know Mike Ryan said I did, but I’m pretty certain I was feeling somewhat vindicated because I scored the tying goal and for me it was disappointing because I didn’t get to play in that first game.”

Pickering was held out of the first-ever match as she carried an ankle injury to Italy, suffered in training before the trip. She remembers being excited about playing her first game and scoring the goal, but is still not totally sure if it came off a free kick or from the run of play.

“I think Mike Ryan thought it was a free kick, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t,” said Pickering, who would score just one more goal in her National Team career (against Brazil in a 2-1 win back in Jesolo in 1986 in the first-ever meeting between the teams). “I remember it being a left-foot shot into the upper-90, upper left hand corner.”

The goal against Denmark must have been a nice one, as Pickering, one of the first captains of the U.S. team, was invited and returned to Italy to play club soccer for Juventus Feminile in the winter of 1986-‘87.

According to Ryan, it was a set play, but not a direct kick, with Akers touching the ball to Pickering for her to blast into the net.

Forward Tucka Healy, a member of that first team, summed up the first-goal memories of most of her teammates.

“I think it might have been Emily Pickering, but I wouldn’t swear on it.”

Defender Denise Bender just remembers that she was chasing Danes all over the place.

“In the second game against Denmark I was running as fast as I could chasing a Danish player and then she accelerated,” said Bender. “I remember thinking, ‘oh ----, I gotta run faster.”

As it turns out, according to Roger Rogers, the team administrator/equipment manager/assistant coach on that first trip, the first goal was in fact scored by Akers.

“Denmark went up 1-0 early in the first half, and Akers tied the game,” said Rogers, who has match reports and articles from the tournament. “Pickering put us ahead and then Denmark scored with eight minutes left to tie the game off a corner kick. It was a girl named Schmidt-Hansen and the cross was by a player named Munk Nielsen.”

Rogers, a medical biochemist who would go on to start Women’s Soccer World magazine, worked with the U.S. team as the administrator up through the FIFA Women’s World Championship in 1991, where he was also the Head of Delegation. He is pretty sure Pickering also assisted on Akers’ goal, which he is pretty sure also came on a set play.

To confirm the story about the first goal, Rogers unearthed an article from La Gazzetta Dello Sport by writer Antonella Antonelle.

The translation read in part: “The Americans managed to draw after a foul, with the goal scored by Akers and then went ahead with a goal by Pickering. Only a header by Schmidt-Hansen off a corner kick prevented the Americans from obtaining a victory that would have been sensational.”

The Americans, who went 0-3-1 at that first tournament would have to wait almost a year for their first-ever victory, that coming on July 7, 1986, a 2-0 win over Canada in Blaine, Minn.

But from there, the wins and the goals just kept piling up.

In 2003 at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Third-Place match, Shannon Boxx scored the 1000th goal in U.S. history in a 3-1 win over Canada.

The goal was scored at the sparkling Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., U.S. Soccer’s National Team Training Center, and a monument to soccer’s remarkable growth in the United States in the last 20 years.

The building of all great things must start with the first brick.

The first two were put down by Michelle Akers and Emily Pickering.