Mia Hamm gets much credit – all deserved – for helping popularize women’s soccer and the U.S. Women’s National Team in the United States.
She had all the tools to be a superstar: the backing of major sponsors (Nike and Gatorade, to name a few), the platform on which to perform (the National Team and international stages), and she was incredibly well-spoken, photogenic and telegenic.
Of course, most importantly, she helped win games and she scored goals. Lots of goals.
She finished her career as the world’s all-time leading scorer with 158 during her 18-year international career.
On the field, she also had a flair for producing that dramatic moment.
Three such moments occurred on May 9, 1997, against England at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, Calif., when she scored the third of eight hat tricks in her career.
What made this performance incredibly special was the power, style, sophistication and diversity of each of the three goals, plus the fact that she did it live on ESPN in front of what was, at the time, a massive crowd for women’s soccer.
The U.S. Women started having games broadcast live in the United States in 1995, so in those early years, fans were just getting to know the players.
If she hadn’t done so already (although remember, no matches of the 1996 Olympics were on live TV), Hamm said “Hello, America” in that 5-0 victory against England in front of 17,358 fans.
After Shannon MacMillan had made it 1-0 with an excellent finish from 14 yards out into 37th minute by running onto a ball over the top from Tiffeny Milbrett, Hamm scored three times in a 16-minute span starting just seconds before halftime.
Hamm started with a rocket free-kick from 36 yards that was in the net almost before the ‘keeper could raise her hands. She collected her second goal six minutes into the second half when she took a short pass from Milbrett on the left flank, dribbled square across the top of the penalty box, and hit a vicious bending shot on the ground that darted into the goal by the right post.
She saved the best for last, finishing the hat trick with a dynamic dribbling run in the 60th minute. The goal came off a lightning U.S. counterattack after goalkeeper Tracy Ducar punched out an England corner kick. Defender Lorrie Fair cleared the ball to Milbrett, whose pass led Hamm down the left side. She cut into the middle on England defender Mary Phillip at the top of the penalty box, then cut back to the outside and drove her left-footed shot past three defenders and the goalkeeper into the far post from eight yards out.
Julie Foudy added a fifth on a header in the 81st minute, but Hamm’s three goals, which lit up the Spartan Stadium crowd and a national TV audience, were vitally important in showing fans the U.S. WNT could put on that kind of show and score that kind of entertaining goals.
Two years later at the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup, all of America and most of the world would learn it as well.
The rest, as they say, is history.